Night of Smiles - Todd Rundgren's AWATS in Stamford 9-9-09

Review by Mike B (Switch to

Starting with the pre-show fan party at a local brewery and ending with the band's final bows at the end of the concert there were plenty of happy smiling faces in Stamford.

This presentation of Todd Rundgren's seminal album A Wizard A True Star, the 3rd of 6 scheduled domestic shows over 8 days, and the last promoted by the fans who run Rundgren Radio, was held at Stamford's Palace Theater. Although not a sell- out, the floor seating was mostly filled and the balcony's first few rows were filled as well.

Unlike most concerts these days, the audience was milling around and talking with friends and other fans up until the lights went down - more like a big party then a concert. The same happened during the show's intermission as people met up with fellow Todd fans.

There had been hints about the opening 'act' for this show but no one who hadn't been in Akron for the first two AWATS shows a few days before was prepared for a virtual Utopia reunion with Todd leading the band - Kasim Sulton on bass, Roger Powell on keyboards and Prairie Prince (substituting for Utopia's Willie Wilcox) on drums - through a set filled with songs that hadn't been performed since the short-lived Utopia redux in the 90s.

From the opening bars of The Road to Utopia the audience was on their feet and stayed that way for the whole set as classic Utopia songs such as Caravan, Libertine, Hammer in My Heart and more showed why Utopia (and Todd) developed such a cult following. There were a few minor glitches in the set (and one 'start over'), but considering the complexity of the music and the short time available for rehearsals these problems were not a problem for the enthusiastic crowd.

During the short intermission the stage crew dismantled the small band set-up in front of the stage curtain and went the lights went down again the familiar opening sounds from the AWATS album signaled to the audience to take their places for the feature event.

The curtain lifted to reveal the full band on two risers - one for Powell, Greg Hawkes (keyboards) and Bobby Strickland (keyboards, percussion, and wind instruments); one for Sulton, Prince and Jesse Gress (guitar) - and as the first AWATS song, International Feel started Todd cam out in a full white spacesuit (sans faceplate on the round helmet). This was the first of about 8 costumes Todd wore during the set, and he pranced, danced and emoted throughout the set - theatrics not seen on a Rundgren stage in many many years.

The white-tie-and-tails dressed band seemed more than capable of handling the musical intricacies of Rundgren's studio masterpiece, including some extended versions of songs as Todd changed costumes backstage. Todd never missed a cue during the costume changes, returning to the stage just in time to start or end the song.

We had the 'peacock' look, the 'pretty bird', the glam rock silver, all looks bringing back of the 70's Todd at some point.

There were way too many highlites to this set to list al l of them, but the long version of Zen Archer, with Bobby Strickland coming down from the riser to perform an extended saxophone lead was one of them. Kasim Sulton took the center stage for one song, Does Anybody Love You, before Todd came back out.

Even at 61+ years old Todd still puts all of his emotions into his songs, making songs like I Don't Want To Tie You Down and Sometimes I Don't Know What to Feel and the I'm So Proud Motown medley into eye-watering masterpieces.

The band came back to the stage for one encore, the album-ending Just One Victory which was only marred by the fact that Todd could not get the guitar strap over his costume's shoulder in time to play the full ending lead guitar work.

The band took bows and left the stage but the audience cheered for more, only subsiding when Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" came over the PA (yes, that song was Todd's choice!)

A night to remember - a true night of smiles!

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9/09/2009 - Stamford Center for the Arts - Stamford, CT

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