Todd Rundgren – Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, NJ

Review by Rich Atkins (Switch to

In the latter part of 2006, Songwriter/guitarist/singer/producer Todd Rundgren trekked across Canada with an all-star lineup, which included bass and Stickman extraordinaire Tony Levin, drummer Jerry Marotta, and longtime sideman/guitarist Jesse Gress. After a sprinkling of dates throughout some of the Provinces, Tony Levin remarked on, “I'll hope we re-convene the band sometime, cause it's been great. You never know, in the rock field, what's coming. But you have to appreciate the special music when it happens - and this was a treat!” Call it a prophecy, or just a statement from a man whose calendar fills up fast, the group reconvened in early April and has been making its way down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

Having started in Atlantic City at the House of Blues, followed by a stop in New York City at BB King’s, the band’s third show of this mini-tour was at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey. A packed club ensured that the ensemble was warmly welcomed as they took the stage at 8.45. Donned in all black, as all band members were, Levin was the first to stroll across the stage to his side, taking digital photos of the audience—a standard component to his ever-growing site that documents performance after performance.

The band wasted no time kicking it into high gear from the first notes of “Buffalo Grass,” and raucous version of “I Hate My Friggin’ ISP,” both tracks from Todd’s One Long Year release in 2000. To round out the opening of the show, the time machine stopped on the landmark Something/Anything? album, as the band delivered a thundering rendition of “Black Maria,” which was punctuated with a standing ovation from an extremely grateful audience.

Bringing attention back to more recent sounds, the group broke into “Soul Brother” and “Mammon,” both from Todd’s 2004 Liars album. Highly commendable in a show like this is how two guitars, a bass, and backing vocals can deliver a keyboard-intensive song in such a way that it seems full—a tribute to true musicians.

Tony Levin’s Funk Fingers were prominent in holding up the low end on “Fascist Christ,” a staple in Rundgren’s set since the release of No World Order in 1993. Stepping back into the time machine, fans delighted to “I Saw the Light” (1972) and “Black and White,” (1976) from the Faithful album.

Todd announced that he had been covering Red Rider’s “Lunatic Fringe” ever since he discovered that “the really crazy people are in Washington. Of course, no Rundgren show would be complete without references to current political and news events such as Jon Corzine’s recent medical calamities and Alec Baldwin’s telephone improprieties. The front man even made mention that the convalescing Governor’s message, prominently displayed as they drove into the state was “Welcome to New Jersey—Buckle up.”

Back into the down and dirty, the band ripped through “Number One Lowest Common Denominator.” Gress and Rundren traded licks back and forth, demonstrating prowess and taste on this track from the Todd album. A quick visit to 1983’s The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect yielded a wonderful version of “Drive.” Delving further into the solo catalogue, the band played “Tiny Demons” from Healing, but much more driven than the studio version, thanks to Jerry Marotta.

Digging out some mid-eighties Utopia, the band fired through Mystified, a blues track from POV. During the transition into “Broke Down and Busted” from Rundren’s first solo LP, Gress hinted at the old Nazz track, “Open My Eyes.” Then, to make their way back into “Mystified,” Gress hinted at a Utopia back-catalogue gem, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” All of this was brought to a culmination in the completion of “Mystified,” as the crowd continued to roar.

A third and final draw from Something/Anything? came as the band cranked out “SLUT.” Then, they pulled out an unexpected cover by The Call. “The Walls Came Down” was a track that Jerry Marotta and Tony Levin probably remember from their 1983 tour with Peter Gabriel, when The Call opened for them. More likely, however, the lyrics appealed to Rundgren (I don’t think there are any Russians / And there ain’t no Yanks / Just corporate criminals / Playin’ with tanks). The set ended with an old Utopia favorite, “One World.”

After leaving the stage, the band returned to offer a striking rendition of “Hawking,” from the Nearly Human album. A keyboard-intensive song, and a vocal workout, the execution seemed effortless. Finally, Tony Levin picked up the 12-string Chapman Stick Touchboard to provide the bass parts for No World Order’s “Worldwide Epiphany.

It may be cross-pollination in action, bringing Rundgren and Tony Levin fans together to celebrate the great musicians they support. Certainly both prominent players bring a loyal fan base with them. Combined, the act worked relatively well. Probably, in time, the gelling will reach greater levels, and the shows will come off as even more natural and spontaneous.

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4/24/2007 - Starland Ballroom - Sayreville, NJ

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