In the interest of full disclosure, I am a casual Todd Rundgren fan, having seen him maybe a dozen times. That may seem like it borders on the obsessive to some, but consider the friend who convinced me to go (for which I owe him some serious enrichment). Dan has likely hit the century mark in terms of Todd show attendance. He recalls for me, in colorful, explicit detail, snippets of performances from 1981 as though they took place yesterday.
On September 5, 2009, I met some 350 of his brethren, a group of fans, led by Doug, founder of Rundgren Radio, and CruiserMel, who market these grass roots shows themselves and help shape each one. They remain in touch through Facebook, e-mail, websites, blogs and other vehicles and they are the ones responsible for bringing each other together in downtown Akron, Ohio. On this beautiful Saturday evening, the network threw a party for legions of fellow Toddheads, who came from as far away as Japan, Seattle, LA, Boston (us) and elsewhere, with the goal of wishing Rundgren Radio a happy second birthday and giving to the most devoted fans a platform from which to pay heartfelt, real and, most important, joyful homage. It was also a dry run for the next evening’s concert, a complete presentation of Todd’s fourth solo album, A Wizard, a True Star.
Here’s why Todd fans have the uncontested right to loathe me: I hated that album when it first came out. It had no commercial value and I...DIDN’T...GET...IT. Now years later, the passage of has brought me back to Todd (I couldn’t not like Back to the Bars, A Capella, Nearly Human, etc.) and my best friend of some 25 years, Dan, brought me to this event. I dreaded the events leading up to the concert and then the 53 minutes of cacophony that album represented.
From the moment I walked into the pre-concert party, I realized that my expectations were off. By a lot. The level of sheer goodwill and, for lack of a better word, “oneness,” among those I met was nothing short of revelatory. To see a core group of fans come together as a community—and one comprised of, as far as I could tell, really nice people all around—made a very lasting impression on me.
On the evening of the concert, we slowly made our way to our seats, which were five rows up from center-stage (a lucky break), Dan spoke to some friends and I hunkered down, waiting for the arrival of the dissonant storm. What I got was a series of vintage Utopia gems to kick it off. Once Todd’s “opening band” stepped onstage (in white T-shirts and black pants, which, Dan tells me, was costuming from a 1977 show), I was in awe. The set was amazing, even with a few technical issues.
Shortly after the Utopia set, the lights dimmed and AWATS kicked off. I won’t go through all the songs—I don’t know them well enough and others can much more effectively offer details. But seeing its execution, with all the humor and stellar musicianship that involved, was a transcendent experience.
It’s worth noting, again, that it was the Toddheads’ genuine joy in participating that made it a complete experience. Here’s an example: Before the band came out for AWATS, the balcony applauded for the lower seats and we reciprocated. Where else have you seen a concert audience acknowledge each other, and how can you not smile at this shit?
Beyond the enveloping crowd, the band was inspiring. And Todd was clearly ready to rumble. His voice was as strong as I’ve ever heard it, his guitar work was killer and he was at his showmanship best. The way I described it to Dan after the show was that I realized I’d just had a truly unique experience; it wouldn’t happen again.
So consider this a thank you note to Dan Styklunas, who opened my eyes; to the Toddheads, who made me feel so welcome; to Todd for pushing himself and us; and to Doug and CruiserMel, who engineered it all. The one memory that will define my weekend will be sitting in my seat, waiting for the show and feeling a palpable energy; a visceral buzz. Something was happening here and I was lucky to be a part of it.