Todd Rundgren Hot

Added by James Gaden     May 31, 2010    
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Todd Rundgren – HMV Apollo, Hammersmith – 6th February 2010

The last few years have been a good time to be a Todd Rundgren fan in the UK, and despite the fact that this is only one of seven shows to celebrate his ground-breaking ‘A Wizard, A True Star’ album (five in the US, one in Amsterdam and this one), this is his fourth visit to our previously neglected isle in just under six years. At the US shows the band supported themselves doing a set of Utopia material due to the fact that three-quarters of that band were involved, but keyboard player Roger Powell was too busy to do the European shows alongside Todd and bassist Kasim Sulton so Todd had arranged something quite different. Under the banner of Todd Rundgren’s Johnson, Todd, Kasim, drummer Prairie Prince and guitarist Jesse Gress played a set of songs that Robert Johnson basically invented rock & roll with back in the 30’s.
To be honest I’m not familiar with many of these songs even though they’ve become blues standards, but as Gress is playing most of the lead guitar during the main set it was at least a chance to hear Rundgren letting rip with some raw and vibrant guitar solos. ‘Dust My Broom’, ‘Stop Breaking Down Blues’ and ‘Walkin’ Blues’ are basic twelve bar songs that must have been pretty radical when they were first heard back then, and with some cool playing from Prince and a bearded Sulton (“Shut up fuzz-face” Todd was heard to quip during an onstage conversation after Todd started a song in the wrong key) I made a mental note to check out the original recordings of these songs. ‘Love In Vain’, ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, ‘Red Hot’ and ‘Come In My Kitchen’ are more of the same and it’s great to hear musicians interact like this when they obviously haven’t rehearsed that much, and the familiar ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’ is followed by a version of the slightly more recent ‘Crossroads’ to bring the set to a close. Rundgren has done a few bluesy things on his solo albums over the years and it’s great to hear him singing in that style for a full set and playing in scales that he’s hardly used since The Nazz.
From the position of the curtain that Todd Rundgren’s Johnson played in front of it was obvious that there was some kind of stage set behind it, so as the curtain opened it revealed two large podiums at either side of the stage to accommodate his white-suited band. One had Prince, Gress and Sulton on it, the other had three keyboard sets for Greg Hawkes (The Cars), Bobby Strickland and Rundgren alumni Mark ‘Moogy’ Klingman, the latter of whom played on the original album and has replaced Roger Powell for the European shows. Between the two podiums is a doorway through which Rundgren enters in mock slow-motion dressed as an astronaut to sing ‘International Feel’ through his headset microphone. With so many different players and singers onstage, as well as Strickland switching frequently between keys and a variety of saxophones and other wind instruments, it must have been a soundman’s nightmare, so kudos to him for getting perfect sound early on and keeping it that way.
It would be impossible to describe the music on ‘A Wizard, A True Star’, suffice to say that it’s one of the most varied albums ever made so it’s no surprise that Rundgren’s frequent costume changes (almost one for every one of it’s nineteen tracks) are suitably wacky as well. The song order is subtly tweaked in order to place the short instrumentals (‘Tic, Tic, Tic – It Wears Off’, ‘Dogfight Giggle’, ‘Flamingo’) where there’s a costume change needed, from the skin-tight lycra suit for ‘Rock’n’Roll Pussy’ to the feathers for the “pretty bird” in ‘Zen Archer’ and the fat suit for the whimsical ‘Just Another Onionhead/Dada Dali’. Elsewhere the orange suit for the soul medley is quite shocking, as is the one for ‘You Don’t Have To Camp Around’, and where there isn’t an instrumental for Todd to leave the stage they can always use a silly dance by Strickland or get Kasim to sing ‘Does Anybody Love You’. Rundgren dons a chefs outfit and throws out sweets during ‘Hungry For Love’ and another lycra suit and the legendary psychedelic Gibson SG greets the straight-forward rock of ‘Is It My Name’, whilst my personal favourite, as on the album, is the extended progressive rocker ‘When The Shit Hits The Fan/Sunset Boulevard’, complete with great synth solos from Hawkes.
With a single encore of the anthemic ‘Just One Victory’, complete with an appearance of Mrs. Rundgren, Michelle, on backing vocals, it was a pretty short headline set for the money (yes, I did pay for this one!). If we hadn’t already had forty minutes of Rundgren as the support band I might have felt a little short-changed, but as a one-off spectacle and celebration of such an influential album it couldn’t possibly have been much better.
Phil Ashcroft
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