Where to start? The people! Although I had met a number of people at the various Todd New England shows in the last few years -- and at the Stamford AWATS show -- this was my first trip to a big Todd event anywhere. It was great to finally meet in person so many people I had only known online before. I wish I could have spent more time with everyone over the weekend -- where does the time go -- so often only being able to say 'glad to meet you finally'.
Next? The location! Akron pretty much closes up on the weekend, but the Akron City Centre Hotel was a great location. The staff were friendly and decked out in Rundgren Radio event shirts (except for the management!) all weekend. The service in the bistro might have been better in the mornings -- fans up all hours need lots of coffee and as fast as you can get it to us, please -- but they even set up a barbecue area outside in the plaza on both weekend days. The local Lockview Restaurant (grilled cheese place) and Barley Ale House were busy places and more-or-less ready for the Todd crowd too. And don't miss Chrissie Hynde's vegan restaurant when visiting Akron, The VegiTerranean. A block away from the hotel is the Akron Civic Theater where the concert was on Sunday night -- can't get more convenient!
The events! The Rundgren Radio Birthday Bash III. One again, Doug and Mel put on a huge party for the fans and friends coming into Akron for the weekend. Laminate badges, food, cakes and entertainment all evening at no cost, vendors selling shirts, posters, CDs, DVDs, jewelry and more were set up and doing a brisk business. Volunteers helped out in every aspect -- from the entertainment to the table centerpieces with Todd/Healing song themes. Although the party itself ended at 1, the bar was busy until 2 and the upstairs parties ran even later!
Kasim Sulton's Beach Party was fun on Sunday -- without it on the schedule a lot of people might have drunken themselves to a stupor before Sunday night's big event! Kas played for almost an hour, did a brand new song called 'The Traveler' and stayed after the show for autographs and photos.
The premiere of Todd Rundgren and his band doing both the Todd and Healing albums in their entirety was the real reason (or at least most of the real reason) that people had come to Akron. The beautiful Akron Civic Theater was almost sold out for this show and the anticipation was palpable as the audience talked and mingled before the show. Surprising a lot of people, the show started soon after the 7:30 announced time. Everyone had speculated on which album would be done first, if the songs from each album would be co-mingled, so as the lights went down and the curtain went up to the opening sounds of Todd, the answers started.
There was some disparity in the audience over standing/sitting during the songs, but generally, people sat for the more-mellow or instrumental tunes and were up on their feet for the fast and rocking songs. Some of the songs had some faltering starts as the band felt their way into the rhythms, but other songs were spot-on from beginning to end. The arrangements and overall sound of the songs was very true to the originals and there were sometimes four keyboards going at once as Jesse, Kasim and Bobby joined Greg on the keyboard parts. The sound (from row 5) was very loud and sometimes showed a lot of distortion. This was noticeable during the Healing set when the local choir filed onto stage to provide backup vocals -- they were often hard to hear during the loudest song parts. Todd has his share of challenges on piano for a few songs -- an upright/spinet style piano was used, no doubt for the ease of use as it was rolled off the stage when not in use.
The Todd album set was abbreviated -- missing In and Out of the Chakras, and Sons of 1984 was saved as the encore song -- as expected.
Unlike last year's AWATS shows, the costume changes were minimal this year, with Todd removing a wizard-collared cloak after a couple of songs and keeping in the same jacket-and pants outfit for the first set, and a similar outfit for the second set. The lights included moving lasers, a backdrop light curtain and lots of CO2 fog at times creating visual patterns that were very hallucinatory. The band -- Jesse Gress, Kasim Sulton, Prairie Price. Greg Hawkes and Bobby Stickland were often in the shadows, set up in a semi-circle mid-way on the stage. Only Bobby (on sax solos) and Prairie (doing a tap dance!) ever got up to the front of the stage during the show.
The intermission was fairly short and with the long lines at the lobby concession stands, there was not a huge amount of time for audience mingling before the lights dimmed again and the familiar sounds of Healer started as the curtain rose. Pulse was done well and the sight of Todd pacing the stage from one side to the other was humorous and well-played. The song Flesh literally brought out the gooseflesh, but Compassion and Shine really took the audience up the emotional mountaintop. Tiny Demons was moved from its album spot to before the 3 parts of Healing , and the set was finished up with Time Heals which started with some guitar problems for Todd. Todd played only his Fool guitar during the show and ripped out some fine lead guitar work on many songs. Returning to the stage after 3-4 minutes of applause and cheering, Todd announced the encore song and told one side of the crowd they were 'New York' and the other side was 'L.A.' for the audience participation part of the song, recreating the original production.
It was the perfect finale and the curtain came down on the band still playing the end but fading out. As the lights in the theater came up, the audience continued singing and clapping and after a few minutes, it too faded out, followed by massive cheering as the people on the floor waved and cheered at the balcony people and vice-versa.
Todd brought us to the top of that emotional mountaintop Sunday night -- his voice never missing a note (well, one missed verse) and if there were any eyes that didn't well up with moisture in the theater that night, they probably were not real Todd fans but had been brought along by others, because the emotion that Todd puts into his songs -- especially when performed live -- is one of the things that makes people big fans of his music. I envy those who will see more of these Todd/Healing concerts in the next two weeks, but not sure I could take the emotional draining of repeated shows!