4-Star Live Review

Review by Bristol Evening Post (Switch to

Perfect combo: two old stagers and a string quartet
Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson and Ethel: Colston Hall

THIS show was billed as the reappearance of two legends - but it was the newest act who played just as important a role in making it an evening to remember. The legends were Todd Rundgren - back in Bristol a little more than a year after a storming performance at the Carling Bristol Academy - and Joe Jackson - last in town with his band on their reunion tour.

The newcomers were Ethel, a New York string quartet, comprising two violinists, a viola player and a cellist.

Not quite what you expect at a rock concert, but their 20-minute opening set had as much power and impact as any four-piece band.

From an opener that sounded like Bartok colliding with King Crimson, to fiddle folk, to an extraordinary closing blues - they pounded the stage with their feet, bowed, plucked and even hit their instruments and - with strings, hair and even sheet music flying - made for an opening hard to follow.

Joe Jackson was up to the task by being self-deprecating, charming and extremely impressive on the piano. He gave us new songs like Citizen Sane, as well as old favourites including It's Different For Girls, Be My Number Two and Stepping Out. His oldest number dated from 1913 - the rollicking Music Hall hit Hello, Hello, Who's Your Lady Friend, which he performs in a soon-to-be-released Disney film, and which almost got the appreciative, but rather polite, audience's voices and knees up (as in Mother Brown). He closed with Is She Really Going Out With Him?, which did get the audience joining in.

Then it was Todd's turn. There had been internet discussion about Rundgren's performances on this tour, and it didn't augur well when he broke a string right at the start of the opener Love of the Common Man. But after a replacement guitar and some banter with the audience he was back into it, with Tiny Demons Black and White and Beloved Infidel following in quick, and rather offhand, succession.

Things improved vastly when he switched to the piano for a breathtaking, breakneck song of the Viking, followed by transcendental versions of Hawking and Hello, It's Me. Then he switched to a tiny ukulele for Bang the Drum All Day. Ironically, it was a cover version that seemed to get the biggest response of the evening that far - the Beatles' You've Got To Hide Your Love Away. He closed his solo set with Lysistrata, and it almost felt like things were over before they'd really begun. But the real treats had yet to come. Pretending To Care appeared on Rundgren's A Capella album, with just his vocals multi-tracked to spine-shivering effect. Here Ethel re-emerged on stage to provide a backing which came movingly close to achieving the same aching effect.

Then Jackson was welcomed back on stage, to perform Real Men with Ethel, and a cracking version of Got the Time off his debut album, with Rundgren on electric guitar. These days most people, thanks to the internet, are well aware of a tour setlist before a concert, meaning there's little element of surprise. But Rundgren had one in store for the Colston Hall.

He, Jackson and Ethel have been touring all year around America - but it was a Bristol audience who were privileged to hear, for the first time ever, a live version of Stood Up, possibly the best track from the Liars album, and it worked surprisingly well, thanks to Jackson's percussion and backing vocals, and Ethel's accompaniment. Encore time, and many of the audience were expecting old favourite Black Maria, but instead we got another Beatles cover - While My Guitar Gently Weeps. He played this last year at the Academy, and then it seemed rather humdrum. But not last night. Rundgren's guitar, Jackson's piano, their shared vocals, and, particularly, Ethel's frenzied strings created a swirling, whirling cacophony to breathe new life into this old standard.

Two old stagers and a string quartet may not seem the best recipe for a good rock concert. But, when the elements combined, it produced an extraordinary, truly special and often startling result.

(four stars)


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05/31/2005 - Colston Hall - Bristol, England

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