I can't really think about last night's show without the context which preceeded it, so bear with me if you can: I went to Florida to see the Pompano Beach show in April. I took my brother, a profressional rock and jazz drummer, to the concert (he's a casual fan of Joe Jackson's but had reservations about Todd). Todd with solo guitar, in probably the worst voice I've ever heard from him (let's just say there was a high yodeling quotient...y'know, extended endings with lots of whooping and "hoo-hoos"?), tossing tunes carelessly over his shoulder like day-old baked goods, showing what seemed like a real lack of preparation, interlaced with snarky attempts at humor. Not pretty, not fun, and worst of all from a musician of Todd's caliber, not very musical. (To be fair, I'm also a big fan of Joe Jackson's, and his solo status on that tour [with the exception the tunes accompanied by string 4tet Ethel] was also disappointing to me). Both Joe and Todd teamed up to do a Beatles cover at the end of the show which had some of the worst time problems I've ever encountered at a professional show --- were the monitors bad? Did somebody spike the punch? You could see the members of Ethel sawing with extra body language, trying in vain to bring the time back into phase...odd expressions playing across Joe Jackson's face...who knows! All I can say is my hopes of winning over my brother into the Todd camp were solidly (and justifiably) dashed!
In stark contrast to the FL show was Todd's 2002 joint touring effort with H&O. I saw them in Weymouth, MA at the old military base. The full band (H&O's band) played on most tunes; Todd sang lead on H&O's tunes and vice versa; everybody sounded amazing; hordes of colorful hot air balloons launched from behind the stage, soaring over the crowd at sunset...unreal. Probably *the* best outdoor concert I've ever seen. Follow that up with Todd's positively *slamming* spring 2004 performance at The Egg in Albany, NY, which I count as probably the best indoor concert (at least in the rock genre) I've ever seen. Kasim on bass, gorgeous sound, tightly rehearsed band, wonderfully interesting venue, innovative stage sets, probably the most enthusiastic yet well-behaved crowd ever. I hadn't heard "Liars" yet, so hearing those tunes for the first time in a live setting --- performed that gorgeously...yowza. But the biggest point these dates shared in common was a full instrumentation, allowing Todd to really show off his compositions, not just survive through them.
Well, when Todd came out on stage in Boston last night and played his first two tunes solo, accompanied only by acoustic guitar, my heart absolutely sank. I was afraid that Todd would be going it alone yet again, reducing his highly-arranged, multi-layered, groove-heavy, harmonically complex, artfully produced tunes from "Liars" to solo guitar through his entire set. Certainly, solo self-accompaniment is a challenge in any situation, but when the studio versions are so instrumentally lush and the live rendition is so stripped down, it's a bit hard to take. There is no question that Todd can do the self-accompaniment thing better than most --- it takes serious chops, particularly given his material (not exactly the 3-chord tunes most folkies are playing when they do solo guitar gigs). But without question, I miss the thicker instrumental textures. Worse still, there's little question that when he doesn't have a band behind him, his vocal abilities don't shine anywhere near their best, nor does he get a chance to play electric --- a real shame on both counts.
After the first few tunes of Todd's set --- miraculously, mercifully --- part of H&O's band (keys, bass, drums) took the stage. Things got much, much better from there. After Todd left the stage and Daryl Hall mentioned during the beginning of H&O's set that Todd would be back towards the end of the night, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. The "finale" was wonderful. And for those of you who are leery of seeing H&O because you've been exposed more to the more poppy "Kiss on My List" side of their material, please know that they are definitely steering more towards the part of their pedigree they share with Todd --- Philly soul.
May it continue!
New Ipswich, NH