review - TR's utopia - Upper Darby, PA 11-19-11

Review by Wayne Kern (Switch to

OK, I am biased. This is the act that got me into Todd. I saw them on a late night rock concert TV show doing "Utopia Theme" and I was knocked out. So what a thrill it was for me to see them back in January this year in NYC and again in Upper Darby, PA.

The Tower Theater is a slightly run down venue in a slightly run down neighborhood. But it was exciting to see "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" on the marquee as I approached. The theater was almost full. What a great show! Todd sang high notes in a pure voice that I haven't heard out of him in years. His guitar playing was spot on, with maybe half a dozen one-note mistakes. He smiled at each mistake. The band did a great job covering Moogy's absence, mostly thanks to Ralph. Kasim is a very musical player, but on keyboard, he certainly doesn't have the chops of Ralph, Moogy or Roger. (Wasn't Roger available?) As I expected, he played "second fiddle" to Ralph the whole night, not taking any major parts or any solos. Some audience members were handing out glow sticks. Todd's only acknowledgement that he was back in Philly was to say "Home town, blah blah blah." Set list consisted of the LP's Todd Rundgren's Utopia and Another Live (minus Mr. Triscuits, of course - no Roger) and some strip music when Todd removed his chaps in a mock stripper way. The Ikon was not complete. They cut the section near the end that Moogy wrote - that Aaron Copland/western stuff. Crazy costumes, owing more to the hippy 60's than the 70's. During the show, he announced that Moogy had passed away earlier in the week. At the end, he told us that it was the last night of the tour, and they might not do this again - they all have other jobs. BTW, I payed Ticketmaster $110 for one ticket. Ouch!!

I was lucky enough to have an after show pass. Here's my experience:

We are told to go downstairs to a lounge area. Then someone says we should all go upstairs. So we walk into this room, and Todd walks in. Turns out this is a birthday party for his son Rex. I see Kevin Ellman and John Siegler. So everybody sings "Happy Birthday". Todd hits the last note in a mock operatic voice. So a couple minutes go by, and I look around and realize that I don't recognize anyone but Todd. Mary Lou is just outside the door, so I ask her where Ralph and John are. She asks me "John Ferenzik"? I reply "No, John Siegler". I guess Ferenzik was there, but I don't remember what he looks like. She says this is Todd's private dressing room, and that the band is probably downstairs. Well, I would have loved to meet Todd again, and get an autograph and photo, but I figure I better get the heck out of there, as it's a birthday party with family and friends.

So I go downstairs and there's Kevin Ellman. I get an autograph and a photo. I ask him how he prepared for the show. He says he played along with the albums. I say that Wilcox played on Another Live. He says that Wilcox copied the parts from him. John Siegler is busy talking to friends but gives me a few minutes of his time. I get a photo and autograph. I tell him that I prefer his bass playing to Kasim, and he tells me emphatically that he would hire Kasim over himself. Just then Kasim walks over, and John yells "There he is!" I get a photo and autograph from Kasim. Then Ralph Schukett is talking to a friend from Philly and the friend's wife. He's telling them how complicated the music they played that night is to play - the odd time signatures, etc. Siegler tells Ralph that he and Kasim both went to the same wrong part of the song during The Seven Rays, but the audience probably didn't notice. I ask if that's the part where Todd started singing, then suddenly stopped. He says "Yes". I tell him I noticed. "See! He noticed!" he replies. Back to Ralph. I get an autograph. He's very friendly and talks to me for about 15 minutes. So he says "I'm sorry", as if he's being rude, and introduces me to his friend and the friend's wife. (What a nice guy!). So the friend (I forgot his name) tells me he played guitar with Patty Smyth, among others. I'm so busy talking to Ralph and his friends that I forget to get a photo with him. He tells me that he doesn't think of himself as a rock star, like Todd is. I tell him that he's a rock star to me. He tells me the story, which he's told on Rundgren Radio, of when he played with Todd on Saturday Night Live. Someone told him to go to makeup. So he was sitting in makeup talking to Prince's keyboard player, when Kasim rushes in and says "Ralph! We're on in 20 seconds! And the first song is transposed down a half step!" He says that fortunately there was a button right on his keyboard to transpose. I tell him I like the song he sang with Utopia in concert back in the day called "Good Times Were Better". He says "I sang a song with Utopia? How does it go?" I sing the first line or two, and he says "Sounds like my 'James Taylor' period". I mention that he played the piano break in "Freak Parade" (just before the vocal starts) different from Moogy. He said that Moogy had a different feel for that than he did. He adds that Moogy played all the complicated stuff and he filled in with simpler stuff. Kasim is standing nearby and Ralph tells me how terrific Kaz is.

I am back stage for about an hour. I stick around until people start heading out. As I walk out to the curb, a car pulls up next to me. Kevin and his wife and daughter are inside. He waves to me and pulls out onto the street. A very memorable night.

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11/19/2011 - Tower Theater - Upper Darby, PA

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