WaT - House of Blues, New Orleans

by Grady E. Moates, II<

It's a crapshoot.

Life on the road, for a touring musician, is such a crapshoot that I wonder that anyone tries to pull it off.

Let me give you an example from my admittedly limited experience.

In the late 60's, I was lead singer and keyboard player in "TITAN", a hard rock cover band with a few tunes of our own that toured around the deep South states. My years of experience "on the air" in radio gave us a unique perspective. We put a lot of effort into making our performances `tight' and `slick', while maintaining enough freedom onstage to allow individual expression by each musician. For instance, every set was 50 minutes, plus or minus 2 minutes, and from the first beat of the first song until the end of the set, the music never stopped. We had many rehearsed transitions between many songs, and had arranged quite a few song `trilogies' in which the inter-song measures were carefully arranged and doggedly practiced. During the last few measures of a `trilogy', we would quickly decide what to play next based on audience response to the last few minutes of our music. The idea was to create an energy level, almost a musical frenzy, in the audience, and once we got them going, not let them stop. Broken guitar strings, bad guitar cables, nothing stopped us. We might end up playing 32 measures of fairly repetitive stuff while someone replaced a string, but THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED. Within many of the songs, however, just about anything was OK. . . there were lots of tunes during which one or another of us would `go off' on some kind of unstructured segment, jazz-like if you will. But at the critical points in the set, at the transitions between songs, we were a tightly knit team, pulling the audience along and never letting them go.

We were playing some of the same venues that The Allman Brothers were playing (before their first album was released), on alternate weekends. Every weekend night, a different venue. While all of them were important (EVERY fan should get whatever it takes to get them off), some took on a special significance when "career" and "image in the industry" issues were considered. You try to give every show your best, but you want the KEY shows to be PEAK PERFORMANCE shows.

One year, after six months of playing every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, we booked into a club on Panama City Beach, Florida, called the Old Dutch. It was to be a two week stint, during `high season', giving us eight shows a week of exposure to a large cross-section of vacationing people. If we did a good job, we could hope to kick our careers into a higher orbit.

The first night was incredible. The energy level was maxed out, the club proprietors were impressed, it all worked.

In celebration, at 2 AM, we went for a stroll on the beach, running through the surf, laughing and cavorting. Within hours, all of us were seriously ill with upper respiratory system problems -- coughing and wheezing, sinus drainage, the works. For the rest of the first week, we had three spray containers of Chloraseptic throat spray on the stage, to deaden the throat nerves enough to get through the shows. It was dreadful.

After the first week, we were replaced. Not because we were bad musicians, but because of one little slip in our discipline -- we went for a stroll on the beach and got sick at the same time -- the wrong time.

I've had the chance to see four WaT shows -- Boston, Atlantic City, New Haven, and New Orleans. While all the shows, being Todd, were great, these four shows have been all over the map in terms of performance quality.

Boston wasn't very tight, Todd's voice was spotty, and the room resonances made some of the subtle key changes in the bossa nova arrangements not only hard to hear, but, at times, downright irritating. You could hear what they were trying to do, but the damned room sound smeared it so badly that it just didn't come off right. LOUD & Clean rates this show a 6.

AC was incredible, one of the best Todd shows of all time. I was sitting right in front of him, right next to Wolfie, and I swear to you that the whole show was `dead on target'. Voice, mix, tension, uncolored room sound, band synergy, damn. . . I was in heaven. LOUD & Clean rated this show, at the time, a 10.

The show the next night in New Haven was, in contrast to the AC show, a 4. Not that the band wasn't giving it their all, but if I thought the key changes were smeared in the Paradise in Boston, New Haven gave me a new perspective on smeared sound. For instance, most of "Can We Still Be Friends" sounded off-key, and the special chording on The word "SONG" of the "sweet sad old song" lyric was completely lost and undefinable to any ear not in the near field of a PA stack. Todd's voice was pretty shot for most of the night, it being obvious that he had given a little too much of himself in AC the night before. While I was ecstatic to be at ANY Todd show, my s.o. and I agreed that the weekend could have been better had we just gone home after AC.

HEY!! I DIDN'T SAY THE FANS WEREN'T GREAT IN NEW HAVEN, AND I DIDN'T SAY TOADS IS A BAD PLACE, EITHER!! But I am a sound guy, and a musician, and (this is the clincher) If I could have chosen to have (1) the AC show in New Haven, or (2) the New Haven show in AC, choice number (1) would have won hands down.
The New Orleans show (which I just left an hour ago) was so DAMNED GOOD that I had to derate everything else by at least a point, maybe two. Since the House of Blues has a video infrastructure and the liveconcert website, this was the place for Todd and Co. to get it right. And it was a crapshoot. Is everyone well? Is everyone in a good mood? Is the sound right? Is the room sound clean? Are the room resonances under control? How about the audience? Are they into it? Is it too crowded or is there enough room to move without stepping on someone? How about the drunk asshole factor?


So many times, when I've cajoled a group of my friends into accompanying me to a Todd show, his voice is off, or the room sucks, or we feel like sardines, or the sound sucks, or someone in the audience forgets why they are there and yacks loudly during _TINY DEMONS_ (and, oh, yeah, what's with that. . . Todd's tearing his heart out in an intimate moment between himself and his fans, and this jerk next to me has to yack about some shit he could talk about **any other time**, christ (not capitalized, not referring to any known deity, just an expletive), there's a thousand other bars he could go to for that kind of ego gratification, why don't you just SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO THE ARTIST YOU FUCKING SHITHEAD??!?!? ) and the result is less than stellar, no matter how hard Todd's crew tries, and no matter how much we want it to be better.

HOB NO was an 11 (not to remind anyone of Spinal Tap), which forces derating of previous shows to:

                             Boston =  5
                      Atlantic City =  9
                          New Haven =  3
         New Orleans House of Blues = 11
Now a little about show prep. Every arrangement, as you all know by now, is precise (Todd is holding out his hands near the end of "Can We Still Be Friends" and Al slips a drink between the outstretched fingers of his left hand, Todd tries to get a sip during the end of the song, but he just can't, cause the lalala phrases are just too close together). After only 4 shows it is evident that every breath is planned, but there's plenty of room for each member of the band to breathe when it's "their turn". Buddha (capitalized only because it's at the beginning of a sentence, not referring to any known deity, just an expletive) it's breathtaking how much planning and detail work has gone into this. The one that really gets me is "Eastern Intrigue". Let's think about the meaning of the song for a minute. Our protagonist is searching for the meaning of life, and everybody's got a different brand name to sell (I'm a fallen from faith Methodist preacher's kid, so don't start, OK?). After a while, OH wants to know WHICH GOD IS REAL?!? Now don't all stand up at once. This could be a real bad moment for some of the newbies in the audience, so. . .

The first time through the mantra turnaround it's done with a light-hearted feel, almost like `yeah, I know, I wrote this, but it's just a joke, OK?' But the second time through the mantra, it's REALLY SERIOUS, FOLKS!! THE LIGHTING CHANGES, THE SOUND GETS HARD, **YOU ARE FORCED TO FOCUS** AND YOU HEAR THAT THE MANTRA IS A MIX OF DOCTRINES!! Thisonethatonetheotheronefuckme whichoneisrealgottagetagripsomebodyhelpmewilltherealgodpleasestandup? It's about here, in the last show I will get to see of this tour, that I realize I have to go into sponge mode 'cause I will never see this again. It is one of those moments that can slip by without having the mind's camera rolling, and then you only get the dim echo, not the experience, into your permanent cache. So, I stop bouncing around in my space, I open my eyes as wide as I can get them, and I take it all in. He's deadly serious. This is the peak of the show. Everything else is preamble and reconciliation. I am here for this. By the banks of the Holy Nile, as the palm trees sway at the base of the Sphinx. I was there, years ago, with a woman who knew who Todd is but didn't GET IT, two week vacation in Egypt, we walked right up to old Sphinxy and patted him/her on the knee. She was having fun, I was hearing Todd sing "AS THE PALM TREES SWAY AT THE

        BASE    OF    THE     SPHINX".
It's no wonder we're not together anymore. Obviously she is the superior person, she doesn't get caught up in any kind of obsessive attitude toward a 'couldabeenbutdidn'twanttabea' rock star. Hey, it's just a record. Calm down. Todd even told you that in "FAIR WARNING".

Look, life is short, each of these performances is here and then it's gone, it's not a record that you can play over and over, it's here, it's now, it's just for this time only, make the most of it. I may never again get to see Todd ask the real God to please sit down. (And, when you get down to it, isn't this what human life is all about? We're just looking for an equilibrium from which to operate . Why all the brandnames of God? Isn't there just one? And if not, why not? If there is competition among universal creators, why can I only perceive one universe? Well, if you GodGuys can't decide who's boss, how doya expect me to decide? Fuck you all, I'm boss. I'm the Individualist.


And then there's the way he rips off (maybe without even knowing it) a performance trick I saw first from (it's taking me a minute to think of the guy's name. . . hang on. . . thin, blonde, big nose, was Bette Midler's musical director, writes smarmy love songs like the mainstream wanted Todd to keep doing in the 70's (thank God he didn't listen to those idiots)) Barry Manilow. Right at the peak of "I Can't Stop Running" when the lyric goes "into the arms of my god" all the colored stage lights go off, and only vertical white lights come on during the extended hold of the word `god'. It's awesome. And it's done so much better than BM did it.

And then there's the backup vocals. Understated, mixed to be thin, almost ethereal, no bass at all, nearly angelic, missing where you expect them to be (from years of listening to the old LPs or CDs), and delightfully there when you least expect them. Todd is a fucking genius.

And then there's the scat singing segment of "Born to Synthesize". Here he is taking a tune that was already a synthesis of unusual sounds and lyrics 20 year ago, and taking it into another freaking dimension! Can't this guy stop?!? How much can we take?!? Answer: All he can give us. We are with you to the end, Todd. This is a commitment. You dish it out, we scarf it up. As the years go by, let it be recorded that a small group of lunatic fringe held down productive, respectable jobs, and contributed to society in their small way, guided by a plethora of ideas culled from many different walks of life and synthesized into a simple creed by one Todd Rundgren.

How can this guy sing, in that dispassionate voice of his, those lyrics? Doesn't it mean he doesn't really feel that way if he can sing with no apparent feeling? It's inhuman. How can 30% of the people in this room yack about the freaking weather while Todd is delivering THOSE lyrics and THAT music with HIS dispassionate voice?

Three Sets. Three Hours. He could do one 100 minute set and leave and we'd accept it. We take it from the Yes's and the Zeppelin's of the world. So why does Todd work so much harder? Because some of us love him, and he is so proud of our love. He even tells us so toward the end of the third set in "I'm So Proud".

Back to the theme of this diatribe, stated at the beginning, when some of you thought there was no Todd content. In spite of the flu, in spite of all the random occurrences that can happen, the rooms with the largest audiences had the best performances. AC was an opportunity to expose a whole new (old) generation to Todd and his synthesis of ideas lyrically presented. HOB NO was potentially a huge audience when you consider the www.liveconcerts.com aspect. These two shows were tour peaks. You can't plan for that. You can't even hope for it. But when it happens, you can thank your personal God for it. I think Todd is doing that right about now, and with good reason. In spite of the crapshoot, the shows that needed to be best WERE best.

It's a crapshoot.

Sometimes you win.