. . . and play, we did! Three nights, three shows, a hundred Rundgren Radio participants having a first-year celebration to remember forever! Friday night, the "40 Years Ago Today" Sgt. Pepper's extravaganza finale, with all the performers in top form, showing Vegas how it's done, and hopefully recording all the images from the extensive array of video cameras and the sounds from the top-notch sound system for a "Retrospective of a retrospective". . . a look back at the last night of a look back at the Beatles' most wide-ranging collection of songs in the spirit of musical theatre. Imagine THAT DVD on your shelf!! Todd's close friends Jesse, Prairie, Greg and John built an orchestral foundation for the performance, and Jesse masterfully directed the accompanying symphonette. Todd was in rare, goofball form, appearing to be unable to take the event seriously, while working as hard to achieve a personal best as he ever has. And that was only our first night of experiencing musical history.
Saturday night, another adventure in rock comedy with the Tubes a few miles away, with our own Prairie Prince blowing our minds with his percussive prowess on a second, totally unrelated repertoire of tunes. We all laughed 'til we cried when a clueless octogenarian security guard insisted that Michele R. and Rachel H. stop dancing with the Tubes and get down off the subwoofer cabinet. Later in the show, when Fee invited Michele back on stage, and explained what was going on to those who might not have known about Michele's history with the band, we were all, once again, immersed in musical history.
I'm a techy, and can't help writing about what I know, so if you aren't interested in the tech details, just skip down to the party portion of this report, marked, interestingly enough, "PARTY NOW!!"
Sunday started early for me, since I was the guy who arranged for all of the sound equipment for Rundgren Radio Birthday Bash #1. This was a 100% fan-driven event, and we all wanted it to go off without a hitch. When Doug had been in the planning stages, and had learned that I was close friends with a Las Vegas Pro-Sound contractor, he let me get a quote on the necessary equipment from my old buddy Sean Macke, and we ended up with the contract. So, at ten AM, I was at the door of Celebrity Night Club, just a block off the "Fremont Experience" strip in lovely Las Vegas, meeting up with my crew. Sean had moved all the gear into the place Friday night while we were Sergeant Peppering, so all we had to do was get power to the gear and hook it all up, and do the best we could with the club's existing lighting system. Sean brought his friend Carol Dodds, who turned out to have done stage and lighting work on some Todd tours in the '80's. Carol was pleased to re-gel and focus all the lights for us, and she was done with that job just as the drums, amps and rented guitars and basses showed up around lunchtime. So I started rolling in the backline gear, unpacking it, and deploying it around the stage. Robert Frazza, Todd's long-time Front-Of-House engineer showed up about that time and began directing us in the fine points of "what goes where, and how it gets hooked up".
As you might imagine, as I'm working with this great team, I'm in heaven. I've been doing sound for broadcasting and for live performances for broadcast, for 40 years (there's that number again), but getting to help with a Todd show, now that's Very Special! When Rachel, Jesse and Prairie showed up for sound check, and we were pretty much ready for them I breathed a big sigh of relief. Robert had said that Todd wanted an hour-and-a-half for sound check, which was longer than usual, so when we were done in under an hour, we took that as a compliment.
The doors open at 7:00. The marquees over the entrance merrily proclaim "RUNDGRENRADIO.COM - BIRTHDAY BASH" and "THANK YOU - TODD RUNDGREN - JESSE GRESS - PRAIRIE PRINCE - RACHEL HADEN". The bar is well-stocked, the place is packed, the partying is extremely hearty! About half of us had made it to ToddStock, so for us it is a re-union, and a chance to re-live that great experience with the other half of the crowd that had dearly desired to attend, but could not. A happier crowd of people I have never witnessed! Doug and Mel have done a great job of loading down the hors d'oeuvres tables. . . there is not a chance that they will float off the floor this night! The night club is the perfect size for the event, feeling full, yet having just enough extra room to allow easy milling-about without triggering claustrophobia. The cameras everywhere are evidence that Doug's camera policy, "bring cameras and take lots of pictures", has been happily embraced by the revelers.
The show starts at 8:00. To thunderous cheers and applause worthy of a crowd twice as large as our intimate gathering, the Arena fills with our combatants, Jesse, Prairie, Rachel and Todd! Dressed for battle, all in black, it is evident that the music is what it's about tonight! I was too busy running the monitor desk to make a list of the songs done in the first set, hopefully another reviewer will have documented them. There were a couple of great surprises, though. I breathe a sigh of relief as the first set ends, when there are no sound problems.
The partying energy ascends to new heights as the Arena set begins! Todd is MAD! I dunno where he gets his anger, he must plumb the depths of his psyche to find this intensity, but he's bringing it to us NOW! Next, we learn the reasons we should be AFRAID, and why it's no sin to feel this way, as long as it motivates us to DO SOMETHING about it! MERCENARY tells the story of warrior prostitution. . . people who do the most dastardly deeds with no motivation other than compensation. GUN comes next, describing the inner workings of a weak, immature mind inflicting senseless violence in a "I kill, therefore I am" reality.
I'm having the time of my life at the monitor desk, because it gives me a great opportunity. . . I can press a few solo-in-place buttons and get really clear submixes of the vocals in my headphones! Jesse and Rachel are spot-on singing vocal parts that are as good as the best harmonies Utopia ever sang, but cast in Todd's new Arena-rock world! It's simply priceless!
Sean walks over to let me know that there's a little harshness in the sound system out front, but he says he's working on it. Cool!
As always, COURAGE comes next, singing of the tragic loss of the things we love when we lose the courage to follow through on our convictions, and the great things that can be accomplished once we finally throw our entire being into the things we believe to be important. What a message! WEAKNESS reminds me of that sweet moment in Kaua'i, when Todd was performing this song in public for the first time, and he turned and sang it with all his heart to Michele, who was standing on the balcony of their new home.
Sean walks back over to let me know that he found and fixed the cause of the strident tone in the sound system out front, and that it's a lot sweeter now! Right now, I want nothing more than I want the sound for this show to be good, and it seems that we're pulling it off! Carol is doing a great job running follow-spot from the rear of the club.
Song after song, Todd throws down his latest album, and lets us know how much fun it is to be doing it for a room full of people who "get it!"
STRIKE is another anthem, entreating us to take a stand and put everything we've got behind it, while we have the opportunity. Fist-pumps all around, great fun, and yet it's another sermonette on life and it's living. PISSIN' describes a person we all know, it's just that for each of us it's a different person. Todd's swaggering guitar lead sets exactly the right tone, and if I close my eyes I can literally see the guy in my minds eye, standing in front of me and posturing. What a vivid image!
TODAY is my favorite song in the Arena show, because it brings home the message that NOW is the time, not later! NOW is the only chance we have to change things, and if we don't act NOW, we miss our chance FOREVER! Our hundred-fold of TR fandom is completely entranced, so it's the perfect time for something to go wrong. And it does. Somehow, the laptop from which Todd plays the TODAY synthesizer tracks has lost a channel of audio, and it's not in the monitor mix. I check the Pre-Fader Listen on my mixer for the track, and all I have is noise. . . so the problem isn't something I can fix. Seconds go by, and the tension grows. Then, Robert makes it from the Front-Of-House mix position, through the crowd, and onto the stage. . . he quickly checks all the connections on the laptop audio interface module, and finding nothing wrong, apparently had to quickly re-program the software and restart the tracks. Todd jokes, "I did my part, I pressed the spacebar!" Whew! Crisis averted. Thank goodness I didn't change anything on the monitor mixer, everything should be exactly where it was in sound check! It's the perfect time for something else to go wrong. And it does. While I'm not looking, one of the guys from the sound company, who apparently didn't realize that the problem was on the stage, walks over to the monitor desk and changes at least half-a-dozen settings really fast. Now, as the tracks are starting again, the mix that Todd, Jesse, Rachel, and especially Prairie are hearing is ReAlLy MeSsEd Up. It's the perfect time for yet more to go wrong. And it does. Faced with two quick, serious problems in a row that were out of my control, my brain shuts down. Instead of figuring out what's wrong and fixing it (which is my job, and IS in my control), I'm frozen in time, and I do nothing. I gotta tell you. . . Jesse couldn't stand near his monitor it was so overdriven, and Prairie still couldn't hear the missing track, and yet these total professionals pulled off a great performance of TODAY!
Todd moves the show right along into BARDO, and the debacle during TODAY is soon forgotten by the crowd. Todd's voice has been spectacular all night, but when he delivers BARDO's lyrics, he's simply transcendent. MOUNTAINTOP, we are told, is the song that Todd has purposefully written to replace the accidental sports anthem that "Bang the Drum All Day" has become. Then PANIC sets in, and Todd, Jesse and Rachel are playing a frenetic lead/bass part at breakneck speed, pushing the energy level in the room even higher. This song perfectly describes where my head went during TODAY. . . panic had set in, and it never helps to panic. OK, message received.
And then, the Arena set ends with MANUP! Easily my favorite TR lyric on the album, it ends with "Listen to me my friend; what you will not defend, somebody else will end up taking. And when the famine comes, you think they'll just give you some, but if you believe that, your mistaken!"
An encore or two, and the show is over.
It took a few minutes for Todd and the rest of the band to make it back out front, but Michele and Darnelle held drawings for door prizes.
Then it was Magic Cake Time! Doug had ordered two delicious cakes from the famous Las Vegas bakery, Freed's, and we brought them out for Todd and Michele to see. One was a giant, green guitar pick, easily a foot across, complete with Todd's characteristic signature! The other one was a printed replica of the poster for the Arena album! What a hoot! Todd then cut the cakes and served them to us! How cool is THAT!
LATE NIGHT TECH STUFF
There was a lot of gear to organize, pack and load-out, and if it took us too long, we were going to have to pay a penalty to the venue, so I spent my after-show working with Sean and his helpers, Mark and Don, to "make it so". When I pulled our power tails out of the breaker box near the dressing room nearly two hours after the show ended, Todd and Michele were still in there, talking with whomever wanted some face time. These are very special people to have given their time and opened their hearts to us so graciously, over and over, year after year, and we are very fortunate!
We rolled the last of the equipment out of there at 2:25 AM, just five minutes before the penalty would have kicked in. Sixteen hours of some of the hardest work I've ever done, and except for my one mistake, it was sheer ecstasy for me! If something had to go wrong, and my mistake was the only thing that went wrong all night, it must have been a pretty good night, and a great way to end this historical weekend for the Todd fanbase.