The problem is that Todd Rundgren wears lots of hats. You can't put the man's artistry into a box with a label. Not even a dozen labeled boxes will hold all the genres of music in which this man maintains proficiency. How is this a problem, you ask? Typical listeners to the popular music of today are generally quite a bit more limited than Todd. Some like only his early pop stuff, some like his a capella stuff, some like his "word jazz" stuff that was spun off from things like '60's Ken Nordine and '90's rap/hip-hop, some like his blues-influenced stuff, some like his arena-rock stuff, the list goes on and on -- but few folks actually tolerate all of it, and fewer still love it all.
There I was, at the House Of Blues in New Orleans, with my daughter and her husband, watching Todd and company rock out even better than I remember in the power TR-io tour. Jesse, Kasim and Michael were really puttin' the heat to the music and I was havin' a blast, when a guy sat down next to me half-way through a blistering "I Hate My Frikkin' ISP".
He asked, "Did we miss any songs?" and I replied, "Yeah, his first one was "Buffalo Grass". He nodded, and replied, "I'm a BIG Todd fan!", and I replied, "Me TOO!!", and then we turned back to the stage.
"Black Maria" was scorchingly good, tighter and yet more fluid than with TNC. "Soul Brother" brought back great memories of the Liars tour, and then the hammer went down with "Mammon" and "Fascist Christ". Jesse really stood out on "I Saw the Light", and the twin-guitar lead with Jesse and Todd was the best I've ever heard.
Then the boys went back to hard rockin' - "Black and White" really kicked, and then Todd said, "We're not above playing someone else's song, especially when they aren't around to play it themselves anymore!" and launched into Red Rider's "Lunatic Fringe".
As if challenging the audience to get even more frenzied, in quick succession the hard hits came. . . "No. 1 Lowest Common Denominator", "Drive" (from TEPTAE, not the old Cars song), "Tiny Demons" (absolute perfection, another song that Jesse really showed his stuff on), and then perhaps my favorite medley, Mystified/Broke Down and Busted". Priceless!
Somewhere in those last few songs, the guy to my left nudged me. I had noticed that this guy hadn't responded to any of the music, no applause, no involvement, and I was intrigued. He asked me, "How many Todd shows have you seen?" I replied, "Well, not counting the dozen New Cars shows, probably 40 or so."
Then, he hits me with the big surprise. . . "Well I've seen 24 or 25 shows, and this is, by far, the worst one I've ever seen!" That really stopped me - like a bucket of ice water in the face. I waited a song or two, and then tapped him on the shoulder and asked, "When was the last show you saw?" and he replied "sometime last year", and then said something like 'This is just awful. . . it's like musical masturbation. . . he's playing stuff that let's him show off, not the music the fans want to hear.' So, I said, "You know, a lot of the fans had been asking for more guitar, and this show is nothin' but." That got me a reply of "I don't want to talk about it."
Well, that sure "Mystified" me. The set finished up with "The Walls Came Down" (a song by The Call),"S. L. U. T." and "One World", all tight and powerful. The audience was ecstatic and VERY LOUD with their approval. I've seen Todd at the NOLA HOB several times, but I think the audience noise that brought the guys back for the encores at this 12/5/2007 show was the loudest of all the shows.
"Hawking" had many of the audience members swaying with their hands in the air, and "Worldwide Epiphany" was a strong ending to this superior show.
I can't help but wonder what that guy to my left was expecting when he purchased his tickets, and how he could reconcile his opinion with the obvious happiness of the crowd. It all gets down to perspective and expectation. A room filled with hundreds upon hundreds of very happy fans, and one guy who just. . . . . .doesn't. . . . . .get it.
Well, I'm glad I made the trip, and I can't wait for the shows in New England and Chicago. See you there. . .