An Evening with Todd Rundgren

Review by Randy Atlas (Switch to

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating about the "worst of times" part. It's just that the sound was cranked up to a ridiculously high level throughout the show. If I may borrow from the movie "This Is Spinal Tap", I would say that some sound crew person or people felt that the volume needed "that extra push over the cliff", and put it up to eleven. Perhaps even twelve or thirteen for this show! There was no excuse for this intense, distorted sound -- especially considering that the concert took place in an intimate venue: the Riviera Theatre, which was built in 1926 and is listed on the National and State registers of historic places. Fortunately I wore earplugs after a few songs and was able to recognize the songs more easily and appreciate the overall musicianship of the players.

Todd and the band began the show in the rapid-fire style of late 1970s punk and new wave artists like Elvis Costello, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. They played high energy versions of three songs consecutively with barely a second between each of them: "I Saw the Light", "Love of the Common Man" and "Open My Eyes", the latter of which took the mostly 55-years-old-plus crowd way back to the year 1968 and the first single by the Nazz. Later on, Todd time-warped back to 1969 for another Nazz song, "Kiddie Boy".

The band couldn't have been better hand-picked by Rundgren: Prairie Prince on drums, Kasim Sulton on bass guitar, Jesse Gress on guitar, and the underrated multi-instrumentalist John Ferenzik on keyboards. They were was sensational, playing tightly throughout the concert and off one another at times. Their backing vocals sounded perfect and created some nice harmonies while Todd handled the lead vocal duties.

A total of 24 songs were performed during the two hour show, many of them familiar to casual fans of Todd -- staples such as "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference", "Bang the Drum All Day", and "Rock Love".

Deeper cuts like "Secret Society" (Utopia song), "Lost Horizon", and "Determination" satisfied the palates of the more diehard Todd/Utopia fans, based on their wildly appreciative reactions.

Other songs somewhere in the middle of casual and diehard fan favorites included "Love in Action" (Utopia song again), "Black Maria" (featuring a blistering guitar solo by Todd, as usual), "Black and White", and the soulful cover songs "I'm So Proud", "Ooo Baby Baby", and "I Want You".

I must confess that I felt a little bored as a lone drum was set up on stage for Todd to play on for "Bang the Drum", because I knew what was coming would seem to be a bit contrived and overdone. It's rare that something like this has happened to me during a TR concert but fortunately the feeling didn't last very long.

No tunes from the more recent Todd albums Liars, Arena, and State were performed. Instead, we were treated to one track from Global, and that was "Soothe". Admittedly, the State and Global CDs are not among this reviewer's Todd favorites but "Soothe" was one of the treats of the evening; a dreamlike ballad thanks to the electronic/synth sounds provided by John Ferenzik.

Something must be said here about Todd's voice. Something like, "How does the man hit those high notes after almost 50 years?" Wow.

It's difficult for me to choose one highlight from the show, as the material covered five decades of material (it would have been six decades but nothing from the 90s was to be heard). Some of the high points, for me, were: "Sometimes I Don't Know What to Feel" (on which Todd and Kasim traded lead vocals), "Buffalo Grass", "Love in Action" (another one by Utopia), and several of the aforementioned songs.

A personal highlight that had nothing to do with the concert's setllist happened in-between songs, when a woman in the audience shouted, "I love you, Todd!", to which TR responded in a falsetto voice, "I love you, too!" I'm surprised that the security guards didn't make a fuss over her loud remark, because people who made their way up front to dance to the music were quickly shooed away by security guards.

Also, Kasim and Prairie seemed to have something odd going on during the show -- they were talking to each other while playing their instruments, and during one song, Kasim repeatedly walked over to Prairie and touched his chin, moving his hand in an upward motion. Each time this happened, Mr. Sulton had a big grin on his face and was laughing. Very strange... I had never seen anything like that in a concert!

Groovy looking visuals on a large screen (or scrim?) behind the players added interesting artistic touches to each song. If anything else were to be added to these visuals, the effects would have been overwhelming and distracting; fortunately this was not the case.

Todd and company played an encore set consisting of "Drive", "Couldn't I Just Tell You", and "Hello, It's Me". Personally, I was hoping that they would come out one more time and finish the concert with "Love is the Answer" or "Just One Victory", but hey -- the 24 songs that they did play left me with no complaints.

Sound issues aside, "An Evening with Todd Rundgren" was a show that I will never forget.

And, if the concert itself wasn't enough...

To top off the evening, I waited outside in the cold with about 15 other fans (it started with just three or four of us) for the band to emerge from the venue. First came Jesse, then Kasim, followed by Prairie. All three were gracious enough to pose for pictures, sign autographs, and chat with the fans. I didn't see Ferenzik come out. Maybe he was already on the tour bus, or else I just plain missed him. I did manage to get autographs from three of the band members. Then I waited for what seemed like an eternity, along with my new friends, hoping that I might have the opportunity to see Todd come out. Finally, a nice security guy or member of the touring crew (I'm not sure which) asked us if we were waiting to meet Todd. Of course we answered with a resounding "YES!" and much to our surprise, he said something like "Okay, then follow me" and he led us to the tour bus, where Todd was standing at the top of the steps. Our hero took one look at our little group and made a funny gesture and facial expression, letting us know that he was taken aback by all the people waiting to interact with him. Then he quipped, "Usually there's less than ten!" Then he walked down the tour bus steps to sign autographs, pose with fans who wanted their pictures taken with him, etc. He was so down-to-earth, humble and humorous. A very cool guy, even offstage.

For me, this concert was especially anticipated, to say the least. I had missed seeing Todd during the past five years, for various reasons, TR made several appearances in my hometown of Buffalo in that period of time, and it was so frustrating not being able to attend. Therefore this show, plus the post-concert activities, makes my "Top Ten list" of the most magical moments of my life.

P.S. - A setlist for this concert is posted on the web at Special thanks go out to "JoeFromBuffalo" who added the songs that I couldn't remember and arranged all of the songs in their proper order.

Other reviews for Todd Rundgren Dates
12/06/2015 - Riviera Theatre & Performing Arts Center - North Tonawanda, NY

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