This was the opening night of Todd Rundgren's return to the Emerald City 1998. There are many places in North America that liken to Seattle's 'Balard Fire House' which is essentially a dive black-hole with a spotlighted bar at one end of the cement floor hall, and a stage that merely elevates at the other. The 'feng shui' of the whole stage set up was pardonable, questionably surfable, but what can a spirited artist and technician, sacred geometrist and Buckminster Fuller advocate like our hero Todd do with only so much cross corner space? The ever popular 'limited budget' that we all hear so much about reminds us all of our own common-man-syndrome, of not producing enough immortality to feed the great economic WHEEL, that material KARMA, damn! - I CAN'T GET OFF! - not enough lights, bells, and whistles! Sheer talent will have to suffice!
Well this certainly appeared to be a mysterious inpromptu tour with small venues for a guy I once saw fill a surprising number of seats at the Spectrum in Philadelphia... and he was always sold out at countless University concerts, a few Central Park concerts, N.Y., N.Y. - jammed! Asbury Park - jammed! Upper Darby's own, hometown of our hero, The Tower Theater shows, ALWAYS sold out.
Okay so all those years have rolled by, many fans have left and many more have joined the bandwagon, and west is still incomparable to east, and where have I 'freakin' been since that quarter century past? I come out of my career in occultism like a metaphysical mole blinking through the prolific efforts of one Mr. Todd Rundgren who changed my sights (big time) long ago, I come out like a winded weaver of Rock, Myth, and Magic. 70's nostagia is 'in' these days right? All of that nostalgia whips my face as I enter the space of the Ballard dive and attain the smell of the flea bitten fermentation of American pub atmosphere. The spell of that smell likened to seeing Utopia at Alexander's back in '79, the dive arena of Browns Mills, New Jersey. Okay, okay, but enough about dives. Here was a smaller crowd, not typical of a Seattle crowd - I know this, (I put my 9.5 years in this town as a professional dancer, stage name: Bebe)... No, no, this was not a Seattle crowd, THIS was a Rundgren crowd. The curious, not so belligerent and often intelligent faces were loaded with anticipation. This small venue (which was NOT sold out) was filled with wishfulness and many a freedom fighter sported a cheerful and well tempered ego.
I was on a mission to acknowledge my past and intertwine the spirit of this approaching Aeon with the here and now of Rundgren in his fiftieth year of opening minds and creating controversy. It has been five years (NWO tour) since I last saw him here in Seattle and I wanted to hear that voice again.
The bleach top man and godd takes the stage with relaxed radiance. Some years have gone by, but certain traits just get stronger and there are times when Todd truly rambles if he's in a talkative mood. This night was the most talking I have ever seen him do in one show. Quite a lapse of time went by before we heard the first guitar cord, on this opening night of two shows in Seattle - Friday the 13th.
Certain highlights of his chatter stood out. The Seattleites were accused of being: "the ones that started the coffee disease"... Seattle repackaged the stuff, made it look good on the stock market, turned it into a commercial produce all over again, but I don't think this town really 'started' the disease. History rolls around a lot. I just wish I'd listened to that little voice that said to buy 'Star Bucks' stock back when it was 3 bucks a share, having been raised by a Philadelphia stock broker, I was taught not to mess with that industry.
Then there was some rap about being an artist whose need to reach the masses has not been satiated. "TODD, You ARE a REAL artist" a loud voice cries from the dark. TR stops, looks surprised, takes the mike - "I can't AFFORD to be a REAL artist!". He thanks, "people like you" (his audience) for being his supporters. Our efforts to 'throw money' have been acknowledged.
Then Todd got down to a much more personal subject, his spectacles. He went into the song and dance story of what its really like to get your eyes tested. Then he said something that rang true, - A birthday will come and everyone will know when you've changed over to another year..."but only you know" about that fateful day when you've gone blind... The conversation didn't stop there, Todd went on to describe the expense of paying hundreds of dollars for eye torture and a 'new frame' "and they always throw in the perscription lenses for FREE". The complaints were fast and furious as to what the new perscription really did for him. Then he went on to say that one fine day he came across a pair of glasses at Walmart that changed everything for only $12.95. "THANK GOD FOR WALMART !" he retorted. Then in jest he waxed eloquent about the concept of buying cartons of eye glasses from Walmart and throwing out handfuls to his audience. What a guy! I think Walmart owes him for that kind of advertising.
Now then, somewhere in this cacophony of chatter there was a soloist, who was later accompanied by Jesse, and an audience whose patience was beginning to slip. Just like our hero, there to test the wings of humanitarianism, only to be confronted with the same old intolerance of those whose ears long to be tickled by rock cords. For some it was a bad Friday the 13th, as opposed to a good one. For some faithful it was a disappointment and yet, I who have been there so much, I who have forgotten how many times I've seen this guy, I've 'been there' before (disappointed with Todd's performances) only this time I had no expectations and was pleasantly surprised on a few counts. Todd's guitar strings may have been breaking all night but the style and positive upbeat demeanor we all know this star to be is still ever present. If one could just get past the wafts of stale pub smells one might imagine they were sitting in the 1972 studio scene of the creation of Something/Anything. 'I Saw the Light' sounded fresh and new. 'Cliche', 'B & W', and 'Can we Still Be Friends' were all delivered with heart even though some who were high on expectancy accused it of being marginal.
Todd commences into a rap about "Incorrect Media" which is accompanied by a really bad home made video version of some wizard invoking alien creatures with the lights of his glowing orb. Crooner music bellows out from the speakers, no body moves. The crowd seems stifled by the hideousness of the joke. Finally we get to move on to something more palatable, given that (more than we like to admit) we all well know what incorrect media is about.
Shades of Tiny Tim filled the air when Todd introduced his ukulele and explained that in order to be initiated into the Hawaiin community he had to learn this little ditty which was an old customary song of the south pacific islands. He had me fooled for a moment there as the strokes of this very small string instrument turned into the licks of 'Bang the Drum All Day' and assuredly as the man began to sing, the voice came out deep and low like a Samoan beach party. Higher pitch yodeling came out as 'Bang the Drum All Day' turned into ...'In the Jungle, the quiet jungle - the lion sleeps tonight'. I never understood those lyrics, lions don't live in jungles and jungles aren't quiet, but fortunately we only got to hear the yodeling part of that song which blended so well with ukulele string beats. The hue of the poor lighting ignited his aura which created quite a nice illusion that 'ye old Sol' was setting over a Hawaiian landscape.
At the piano we heard the story of Todd's neighbor 'Bob' who always invites himself in to hear him play. "But Bob"... I'm composing here, I'm trying to get creative, you're like, watching - can't work here with someone watching me... Hummm, Bob's interrupting our hero's private songwriting time at home. Just who is this Bob really? Is he from the 'Church of Subgenious'? Part of a conspiracy theory at work or somethin'? Ahhh the piano plays, the 'Viking Song' rings true. It comes out like a nostagic fire cracker and Todd hits the keys with 'madman at work' artistry. Faster, faster the words come out like a Long Island tongue twister. Exasperated, only for a twinge, there is a long-deaf-pause before he...'sits us down to the artic meal'...
There's no such thing as 'Todd Unplugged', there's a Hammer in his Head. This may have been an 'off night' but I wasn't disappointed! It was worth all those ocean swells on a stormy November weekend to come down from Victoria, B.C. Canada and become re-ignited by an old flame which still torches on brightly in my Philadelphia native heart. Thanks Todd - I will always love you! Get down east coast fans! The best of this surfin' tour is yet to come.