Vienna (Wolftrap) Sgt Pepper Review

Review by Rob Nargi (Switch to

I was looking forward to this show for some time, as I'm a big Beatles fan as well as a TR fan. There was good and bad in this show, and frankly I'm a little surprised at some of the negative reviews. When seeing the lineup, everyone should have known that this is a "check your brain at the door" type concert and should have gone in with tempered expectations.

I actually give great credit to TR for pulling such an eclectic and varied band together.

Wolftrap is national park and center for the performing arts. It's one of the premier venues on the east coast and offers exceptional seating, even on the lawn, and outstanding acoustics. It's a laid back place, where people bring and enjoy picnics on the grounds surrounding the park before the shows and then on the lawn during them.

Unfortunately, tonight the sound was not very good. I don't know the particulars concerning Todd's sound crew, but it actually sounded as though they either didn't have any time whatsoever for a sound check, they had an incredible amount of technical issues, or it was a house sound crew that had no idea what was going on down there on stage. The mix was horrible at the beginning, and really didn't get right until the middle of the show. Even during the Sgt. Peppers portion, there were distinct gaffs in the mix where suddenly you'd get a blast of guitar out of nowhere or vocals that would come and go intermittently. During Christopher Cross's solo spot, his guitar was lost. Even his solo on Ride Like the Wind was inaudible. Same with Jesse's solo's on Bo Bice's songs as well as those from Lou Gramm. Later, as the mix evened out and the sound crew figured out which knobs controlled which mikes, etc, it was acceptable.

The Show:

The opening of the concert with the entire band performing 'Revolution' is a masterstroke. It gets the crowd involved early, and showcases what we're about to see as the night unfolds as they take turns trading vocal duties and guitar solos. They did a good job on this, but as I mentioned above, the mix was rough and the sound guys were not on the same page with the performers as the lead was usually down in the mix for the first few seconds of their time as vocalist.

Denny Laine then played "Go Now", which has always been a favorite Moody Blues song of mine. That was the first time I've ever gotten to see it live, so it was an unexpected treat. Denny is still in fine voice. I'm not sure why someone was panning him in an earlier review, maybe he was having a bad night. He followed "Go Now" with "Time to Hide", probably the least recognizable song off the "Wings at the Speed of Sound" album. He would have been better served if he'd done a more recognizable Wings song. Still, excellent rendition and solid vocal track from Denny.

Bo Bice came on next. I am not an American Idol fan. I don't even like the premise of A/I. I wish it were banned forever from the air waves. That said, I didn't have a clue about this young man or his ability to sing and play. As I mentioned above, this is one of those shows you have to set aside your pre-conceived notions and just let it happen on stage before forming your opinion. As for Mr. Bice, first things first, I give this young man all the credit in the world for stepping outside his comfort zone into the unenviable position of having to play with a legend of TR's stature (not to mention Laine and to a lesser extent Cross (Grammy award winner) and Gramm (70's icon)), a top notch band that probably makes the union scale, passionless, session musicians he normally has to work with look like so much filth under a couch, as well as performing some of the best loved, timeless, and intricate music ever recorded. Imagine the pressure. This kid pulled it off very well. He performed a couple songs I've never heard before, and I enjoyed them. More Allman Bro's than Skynyrd (which I expected), he traded licks w/ Jessie that I wish were more audible. Needless to say, I have a well earned measure of respect for Mr. Bice. He's a talented kid who sings well and plays pretty good guitar. He's got a way to go, but you can see his upside. Hopefully, he does it his way and isn't plowed like so much acreage for soybeans and corn by his management. We'll see.

Christopher Cross, who I know well from my high school days, came on next. His vocals are still spot on, and he genuinely seems to have a fondness for playing songs that he's been doing for a very long time. "Sailing" was as beautiful as ever, and I caught myself wrapped up in the band as they really swelled up around Cross' impeccable vocals and bathed the song in warmth. It really was that good, and I'm not that big a fan of the song. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the one time Chris got to let loose during the solo for "Ride Like the Wind", his guitar was completely lost in the mix. Cross turned out to be the wild card in this show. He was the one I expected to get the least from, yet he literally stole the show were, and again in Sgt. Peppers. I'll explain later.

Next came Lou Gramm. Someone earlier mentioned he looked like Sam Kineson. I have to, unfortunately, confirm this. He looked completely out of place. He did not look like he belonged on the stage. Then he began his set with "Cold as Ice" and confirmed it. Lou Gramm shouldn't be on this tour. I don't want to make any accusations, but I firmly believed he was in some way inebriated. His voice, once powerful and vibrant, was lost. It honestly was like listening to bad karaoke. My friend leaned over to me and said. "That man should NEVER try to cover Foreigner again", in a joking manner, but he was right. Following this, he sang "Midnight Blue", highlighted by some excellent guitar work by Jesse. Frankly, the band on his set was awesome. But looked and sounded horrible with Gramm fronting them. Finally, he ended his set with "Hot Blooded". Winded, out of breath, and meandering about the stage with his head down most of the time, it was hard not to be confused as to how he worked his way on to this bill and into this show. Now the kicker....most of the crowd seemed to love him. Beer goggles, or I should say beer hearing aides, maybe? I don't know. He got worse later.

Finally, Todd came out to big applause. You've all heard already the selection of songs he chose. Open My Eyes was brilliant. I hadn't heard that in ages, so it was a special thing for me to hear. Unfortunately, that's the only uncommercial thing he was able to do. Having to please the masses, he did a very good rollicking rendition of "I Saw the Light". Enjoyable, but just like Todd, I'd have rather heard 100 other songs. Finally, when they brought the drum out, I called out "You know you really DON'T have to do this..." which got a wry smile and a small round of laughter and applause from the other die hard TR fans in the crowd. Alas, he had to do it. "Bang the Drum All Day". Again, checking my brain at the door, I did my best to enjoy it. Naturally, 90% of the crowd loved it and sang along.

After a short break, the main event began, the entire Sgt Peppers album. After the full band performed the opening track lead by TR on vocals, he yielded the stage to Bo Bice for "Little Help". He did an admirable job with the vocals, and certainly captured the attention of the young girls down front as he worked the stage from side to side like an old pro. TR returned for an incredibly good version of "Lucy". Some people don't like the props and costumes. Ok, I can buy that, but for me it was fine. I don't think he was doing anything any differently than what Elton John did in the 70's when he covered the song. Having fun was what the evening was all about. While TR certainly put his own interpretation on the songs, the poetic license was pretty much at a minimum and the band was stellar. I thought it was a great job.

Lou Gramm made his return with 'Getting Better', followed by the Denny Laine on 'Fixing a Hole'.

Christopher Cross was next with the show stopper (unexpectedly) "She's Leaving Home". The orchestration was beautiful, and combined with Cross' voice, this easily was the highlight of the night for many people as it brought a resounding standing ovation. I actually caught my breathe during the last chorus. Stunning performance.

TR returned as the MC for "Mr. Kite". Losing his mustache in the process made for some hijinks on stage and lightheartedness on TR's part. This was another highlight, as Todd played with all the visuals this song creates in the listener's mind. Again, the band was spot on for this.

The second high light of the night came next, with an astounding version of "Within You, Without You" Somewhere, Harrison was smiling as they played this. Jesse did a phenomenal job on guitar as Denny Laine took on the lead vocal chores. A rousing duel between the first chair violinist and Jesse on guitar brought a large ovation from the crowd. Outstanding piece, one I'd never thought I'd get to hear live. I was amazed at how well they pulled this off.

Chris Cross made his way back out for "Sixty Four", and the orchestra (oboe) certainly helped bring this one home. Cross got a smattering of laughs with the line "losing my hair" seeing as he's pretty void of hair already

Todd made his way back for 'Rita" and then Bo Bice was back for "Good Morning". Both were good, but by this time in the show everyone's looking forward to the Reprise, which the band reformed in its entirety for and performed fairly well. Gramm again seemed lost for most of it. Todd finished the set by taking the vocals for "A Day in the Life". At this point, the band was taking things very seriously, as was Todd, and they performed a great version of the song.

For the encore, "Strawberry Fields" was very well done. Surprisingly, the orchestra didn't contribute much to this, as they must have relied on either the keys or computers to fill in the strings, etc. Finally, they finished w/ "Gently Weeps". Frankly, after Todd gave up the vocals, it turned into a mess. Gramm twice stepped all over Cross while he was trying to take his verse, leaving gaps of no vocals as both stopped for the other. Todd and Jesse simultaneously shot a glance at Lou as if to say, "What the hell is going on?". Thankfully, Jesse salvaged the song w/ a blistering solo to finish the show.

All in all, a great night of music from very different styles of musicians brought together for a very odd and difficult concert. My personal belief is that if this was going to go on longer, Gramm would be asked to leave. Forgotten lyrics, out of sync with the band, appearing (again, not confirmed) under the influence of something, and simply not really seeming to enjoy himself out there, he left me wondering how the heck he got in in the first place. Other than that, though, it was a good concert and a lot of fun.

Other reviews for Todd Rundgren Dates
8/23/2008 - Wolf Trap @ Filene Center - Vienna, VA

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