Game Covers

Posted by Mr. Chadwick, June 6, 2010 09:20pm | Post a Comment

Todd is Godd: Rundgren tours his legendary album A Wizard, A True Star.

Posted by Kells, December 5, 2009 08:30am | Post a Comment
I have only ever twice before been fortunate enough to have enjoyed a live performance of an entire album from beginning to end. I'll never forget the dorky glee I felt once upon a time in 1990 hearing Geoff Tate of Queensryche ask his band mates a few songs into their show in support of their album Empire, "guys, shall we do Mindcrime?," only then to crush non-stop through their hour-long progressive rock-opera Operation: Mindcrime. Then there was the surprise and delight of hearing Joanna Newsom say during her show a couple of Christmases ago, "I'd like to perform my new album for you now," and just like that, her nearly hour long Ys magically unfurled its sails with everyone in attendance on board. However, Todd Rundgren's performance last Tuesday night of his stellar album A Wizard, A True Star at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco was a mess of fandom-fueled joy that I knew I was getting into and, to a certain extent, almost dreaded.

I mean, compared to the prior two experiences where my "being there when they unexpectedly played the album" aspect of the live performance became a highlight of each show, I wondered how will I look back on this --- a show where I know not only the set list beforehand, but also already anticipate the overall feeling that I get when listening to the album on my own terms. In other words, how could this show present anything but the record I love as a less-than-perfect rendition with low-lights glaring where the highlights would be (a lot like Todd's white-on-black hairdo actually). Maybe I was a little concerned as to Todd's ability to deliver, at age 61, his genre-smearing, progressive futuristic rock magnum opus of 1973 in a live, staged setting --- an album that has aged so well that Todd admits to caving in to fan demands for a tour when asked, "why this album," and "why now?" C'mon, who would go through all the trouble to embroider the back of their jacket with album art from a record that wasn't sent from Utopia itself? If the exemplary piece of fan craftage above (as seen at the show last Tuesday night) gives any indication, Rundgren's A Wizard, A True Star must be nothing less than the shit, impervious to crumbling under the constraints of staged presentation! Still there's more...

I know now that I was wrong to doubt Rundgren's ability, regardless of age, to deliver anything but a jaw-dropping display of pure showmanship and theatricality. And I was wrong to expect the expected too. For one thing, I had no idea Todd was to be his own opening band. To everyone's surprise, Todd, flanked by three other dudes similarly clad in black on black and wearing black shades, took to the stage and, after announcing the world premiere of "Todd Rundgren's Johnson," played a robust set of Robert Johnson covers. Todd explained at one point that this particular cover band thing had something to do with either business or karmic obligations, probably both. In any case the set provided a means for a world class shredder like Rundgren to really strut his stuff and look effortlessly cool doing so. But that didn't last long, as Todd's taste for rotating guises in the second act, or rather the show we all came to see, had me wondering if Rundgren's "style icon" status has rendered him immune to aesthetic criticism or has been downright revoked.

When the lights went down and the familiar churning synth-warps of A Wizard, A True Star's opening track "International Feel" began to reverberate, exciting everyone in the theater to their feet, the last thing I thought I'd see was Todd bobbing forth in an astronaut suit. It wasn't so strange given the space-age vibe of the song, but when he disappeared momentarily to emerge seconds later in a full tailed tuxedo for "Never, Never Land" I almost barfed from sheer overstimulation. He even carried a magic wand. Before I could wonder whether he'd be changing looks and serving fresh face for each song, he poofed away only to pop out again shortly thereafter in an electric puce body suit that looked as if it could've been crushed velvet. There was a genie/whirling dervish number in shiny silver and coppers, a flared and floppy pant paired with a mauve smoking jacket and frilly poet-blouse, an inflatable Tweedle Dee (or Tweedle Dum, who knows?) costume complete with lollipop, a feather-fringed, deranged-looking S & M bird-inspired ensemble, your run-of-the-mill gold "Elvis" suit, an "Italian" chef's costume with giant eyebrows, a silver and shimmery black scuba-suit look, a dark druid's robe in glittery purple, etc. Costume changes galore. Though it may be the tamest of the stable, I prefer the matte-on-glossy orange sherbet suit he wore while baring his "soul" performing the "I'm So Proud, Ooh Baby Baby, La La Means I Love You, Cool Jerk" medley portion of the album. Here it is, prefaced with Kasim Sulton filling in for Todd singing "Does Anybody Love You" --- I guess complications involved with this particular costume change called for a stand in.

I gotta say that, all sour notes and wonky starts aside, being there was well worth the time, dollars and effort. It was an amazing performance of an amazing work of musical genius, I'm still a little high from the experience. However, I also harbor some conflicting feelings about the show, as I can't seem to shake the feeling that Todd was making fun of us for putting him up to this AWATS tour. Sure, he could keep on keeping on and play the odd cut from his classic albums during any given concert, as wile and whimsy dictate, but there was something there that echoed of laughter and I felt like it was directed at the audience from the stage. Could it be that I am feeling lame for having narrow-minded misgivings about attending an "album" show? No matter, I'm just so pleased to be able to gush about it and say, "yeah, I was there and it ruled and Todd is Godd!" I know it seems like there's a bit of a bandwagon (no pun intended) trend of late where it seems more and more acts are touring this or that specific album, but I wouldn't poo-poo it for gimmicky nonsense if I were you. I can't recall talking down the trend, but I know I never will. If anything it makes me more aware of the recent "album" shows I passed up. (Echo & the Bunnymen's Ocean Rain, anyone?). Todd's no spring chicken, but his chops and sense of humor are just as golden as the early-seventies material he's currently brandishing again. If touring albums by popular demand is what it takes to get these would-be old timers off the couch and back on stage then so be it; I'm pretty sure no one in that auditorium Tuesday night uttered any semblance of "I'm getting too old for this." See this while you can and expect the unexpected!