The double LP version: This presentation of "An Unpredictable Evening with Todd Rundgren" was another seemingly relaxed affair. Although T.R. keeps up the façade that "anything can happen" or that any song from his "bucket list" (while holding aloft a paper which supposedly has a list of tunes on it) could be played at any time, it is definitely with tongue-in-cheek, as his comments and quips throughout the night suggest. Compared to the Keswick Theater show, one and a half weeks prior to this one, many of the song selections and many of T.R.'s comments between or about the songs were predictable. There was overlap in the tunes selected, but their presentation order and grouping with other songs were different, owing to how T.R. felt the mood needed to be changed or further explored, plus he played a few more songs (at least 23 total). The covers were well represented by (as they appeared) "The Tro Lo Lo Song", "Running Bear", "Blow Me", "Patches", "Kind Hearted Woman Blues", "Endless Prairie", "Fire", "Muskrat Love" and "Are You Havin' Any Fun?" (the latter four in a block in that order near the end of the concert). There was actually another cover song presented when T.R. gave us an a cappella verse and chorus of "Chantilly Lace" as a reference for the audience to that "expert Native American musicologist, Chief Big Bopper"- whom T.R. was commenting about during his reinterpretation of the "Running Bear" lyrics. "Blow Me" was dedicated to "a special guest" and its performance was excused by this night being "a school night" so there shouldn't be any school-agers in the audience- except that Kasim pointed out a few and T.R. was left to verbally dance around its inclusion. "Muskrat Love" featured T.R.'s comments about the possible inspiration for the tune to be written as such and the differences that various rodents might have had on the song's imagery. References to the title resurfaced later in other songs and a plastic musky claimed prime space on the table beside T.R. for the rest of the night. Kasim played the Captain on piano, but with no sailor cap. That left T.R. as "Toe Nail" on vocals. Jesse Gress' muskrat efx solo was definitely much more passionate than the C&T single!
T.R. songs included: "There Goes My Inspiration" (after the opening "Tro Lo Lo"); a block of "Lysistrata", "I Don't Want To Tie You Down" and "Hello It's Me", with an explanation of this tune's inclusion early in the concert and its psychological importance to the fans; "Cliché"; "I Saw The Light", bossa nova style; another block with a mistake free and very fast "Song of the Viking", "Compassion" and "Too Far Gone", with some lyric prompts from Kasim; "Born To Synthesize" in its extended "Killer Joe"/spy jazz version featuring T.R.'s scat vocal calls to Jesse's guitar responses (with a return of the "Muskrat Love" bubble synth efx from J.G. after T.R.'s feigned nap and awakening by Kas) and "Love Of The Common Man"; followed by encores of "Past" and "One World".
Todd started the night with what seemed to be a weakened voice, sounding strained on some notes, but getting stronger as the night progressed. His phrasing and nuance was prime Todd and his delivery carried each song with soul or, on some covers, faux seriousness. Hearing his renditions of the cover tunes lent a new appreciation for them. One of the highlights was T.R.'s lead guitar on Robert Johnson's "Kind Hearted Woman Blues"- one of the few times he wasn't playing only rhythm parts. His piano work was relatively flawless and reserved only for "Viking", "Compassion", "Too Far Gone" and "Past". His banter was typical T.R. humor with song comments and asides to the fan base. Prairie Prince, who had not been at Keswick, played the cocktail drums kit while standing. His fill-in drummer at the Keswick told me that he had "orders" to utilize a "cocktail drums set-up" for the Keswick show. Prairie added the various percussive declarations and poly rhythms that he is known for- his mastery is integral to T.R.'s musical presentation. He played with sticks, brushes, mallets and his hands and was the willing receiver for a few of T.R.'s comments.
Kasim Sulton was holding down the low-end on bass and the high-end on vocal harmonies. He was obviously the lynchpin on many songs by either prompting T.R. on vocals, signaling Jesse on certain cues, alerting Prairie to the upcoming tune, providing co-lead vox with T.R. or interacting during some of T.R.'s commentary between songs. T.R. commented on the "little girl strap" on Kasim's bass that T.R. played during "Muskrat", adding "It's not like I'm Joan Jett" (Kasim played with Jett and recorded an album with Jett's drummer, Thommy Price, in the 80s). The vocal harmonies that Kasim provides are hallmarks of the Utopia sound and are the closest thing to T.R.'s solo backing vox.
Jesse Gress delivered a guitar workshop throughout the night- not only playing incredible rhythm and lead parts, but demonstrating how it is done in service to the song as well as being the spotlighted instrumentalist. He was a stylistic chameleon, playing bossa nova, jazz, country/western, pop, blues, soul, rock 'n' roll and those sweet ballads with equal dexterity. His array of effects enabled him to achieve the sounds of saxophone fills during "Running Bear", of demonic organ chords and runs for "Fire", of thunderstorms for "Endless Prairie", of human voice characteristics for the T.R./J.G. call and response showcase, of synth and keyboard parts and, of course, muskrats frolicking together. More than just achieving the "sounds" of those instruments or noises, he fashioned his playing to simulate the style, phrasing and delivery of them. He was essentially a small band of musicians all by himself.
The musicianship was tight and at the high level which we've come to expect from this group. Their instrumental interplay and presentation made many of this night's song renditions standout versions. There have been so many T.R. live show themes and variations over the years, and every fan will have personal favorites, but this show is worth seeing for the talent of the performers, the variety of music, the relaxed vibe and the reality that our opportunities to see Todd, Kasim, Jesse and Prairie together live are numbered (owing to schedules, age and motivation).
There are photos from the concert on the Pullo Center website and on T.R.'s facebook. Review submitted by Eric Pontius, a Todd fan since listening to his brother's "AWATS" LP on a portable stereo in 1973 and progressing backwards to "Nazz" and forwards from "Todd" at the same time.