Todd Rundgren - Toad's Place - New Haven 2/15/98

by Dave Cornelio

Anyone who visits Toad's Place can quickly appreciate the history of this club simply by perusing the photos and autographs of the acts that have adorned its stage over the past 23 years. It's a history that reflects the eclectic face of music over those years...straight rock, southern rock, metal, new wave, folk, country, blues, jazz, rap and the so-called 'modern' rock...they've all been played here, and by the best of the best: the Stones, U2, Dylan, Billy Joel...even the artist formerly known as Todd Rundgren.

But Bossa Nova rhythms at Toad's?!? Never before. At least not until last Sunday's stop of the "With a Twist" tour, when Toad's was transformed into the tropical "Tiki Lounge". And what a welcome evening it was, especially considering that this was one night that the season's unusually warm El Nino winds failed to blow, leaving the faithful lined up outside with a bone-chilling wait.

All that was soon forgotten when the band took the stage, transporting us to an aural and visual enchanted paradise thousands of miles away. And despite Todd's nagging cough and complaints about his personal health (including references to "involuntary spasms of the blow-hole"), he and the band were in fine form.

The show itself was identical in most respects to the others chronicled on this page so I'll dispense with the "play-by-play" and stick to general observations and some highlights. First of all, the show is a winner because it starts with all the essential elements: a tight group of talented, experienced musicians, a versatile front-man, a rich repertoire of well-known and loved songs. What sets it apart obviously are the Bossa Nova arrangements, which instantly deliver a refreshing change of pace without eroding the genuine appeal of the songs themselves.

The results were surreal...simultaneously bizarre yet satisfying -- exotic rhythms that set the mood and then suddenly unfold to reveal familiar favorites -- some songs that haven't been played live in 20 years, some that didn't make it on the WAT album and wouldn't appear to work in this context, until you hear them: "Zen Archer" (a personal treat...I can't understand why this wasn't included on the CD), "Born to Synthesize" (the shocker of the evening and a real tour-de-force that gave each member of the band a chance to stretch out and show their stuff), just to name a couple of the best examples.

But not everything followed this formula. Just as the incessant rhythms seemed to blend together into the same smooth shuffle, along comes "Espresso" and little on, "Can't Stop Running" to break the pattern and recharge the audience. And the medley of "I'm So Proud"/"Ooh Baby Baby" was a flawlessly rendered performance of pure blue-eyed soul. Seldom has Todd's voice sounded any better than on this tour.

For me, the most magical part of the evening was Todd's solo acoustic numbers that kicked off the last set. This is the one segment of the show that varies each night, so you never know what to expect. This particular time he gave us a Back to the Bars inspired "Cliche" and a goose-bump rising version of "Tiny Demons" (which he aptly dedicated to the microscopic creatures raising hell in his throat). Both were truly classic performances that left you wanting more. I only wish there was more, but I suppose that part of what made it so special was its brevity...oh well.

All in all, this is one show (and tour) that defies the critics, the media, even the fans, but you've got to love it for what it is and give credit to Todd and the band for having the guts to do it and pull it off with such flair. No other acts on the road today would even attempt it. Todd recently told an L.A. Times reporter that he'll consider extending the performances if there was an "adequate" response. Judging from the growing number of positive reviews, the response has been far more than just who knows? Let's all hope that the tour continues. It's a show worth seeing again.

At the same time, Todd told the same reporter that he doesn't plan to end up in the bossa nova bin for the rest of his career, so don't expect that he'll be doing the same schtick the next time he hits the road. Sounds like Todd is already a step ahead, plotting out his next incarnation. He wouldn't be Todd if he wasn't.