It's great to have a new Todd Rundgren set on DVD and accompanying CD after a spate of fuzzy archive releases.
Very rarely has there been an artist equally at home on stage or in the studio. Known mainly as a recording artist and record producer, Todd Rundgren must have amassed more tours (and subsequent DVD's!) than just about anyone else out there. Recent years have seen him playing brand new or classic albums in their entirety, touring with a string quartet, solo acoustic shows, re-uniting the original Todd Rundgren's Utopia from 1974 and even playing a show in Europe with an orchestra he hadn't met. Now here's a different concept for him; taking out his regular band members and playing an evening of his best known and loved songs! Will this concept catch on? Who knows?
Recorded at the Playhouse in Ridgefield, Connecticut (No, I hadn't heard of it either!), Rundgren, bassist Kasim Sulton (Utopia, Meatloaf), drummer Prairie Prince (The Tubes), keyboard player John Ferenzik and guitarist Jesse Gress are perhaps over-illuminated in white light on a stage with a background of the iconic photo from the gatefold of 1973's classic 'Something/Anything' double LP. To be honest Rundgren's voice is a little ropey at the beginning as he gets three of his more enduring songs out of the way early; his sole UK hit 'I Saw The Light', the difficult to sing on a good day 'Love Of The Common Man' and 'Open My Eyes' from his sixties band Nazz. It's been noted in recent years that Rundgren sings better when he puts the guitar down, so 'Sometimes I Don't Know How To Feel' is a huge improvement and he does a great job on the Rocking 'Black And White', even with the guitar. As always there are a few surprises in the set, perhaps none more than the Funky 'Love Science', a mesmerising 'Lost Horizon' and the mellow 'Soothe' from his latest album, 'Global'. Similarly, 'God Said' is Rundgren being preachy but cool, and his traditional soul medley is always a highlight vocally.
As good a guitarist as Gress is, you always feel cheated whenever he does a solo as Rundgren is the master of tone and melody, shining on Rockers like 'Buffalo Grass', 'Black Maria' and the simple wonderful 'Secret Society', also adding great melodies to 'Determination', 'Drive' and Utopia's 'Love In Action'. Rundgren has a lot to thank Sulton for over the years, as well as being an exceptional bassist he harmonises many of the lead vocals and sings counterpoint, stepping up when Rundgren struggles on the throaty 'Couldn't I Just Tell You' and adding note-perfect tones to the encore of 'Can We Still Be Friends', 'Hello It's Me' and a triumphant 'One World'.
The sound is punchy without being perfect and a few mistakes have been left in, but visually it's a bit weird, with a line of dancing women in the front row obviously obscuring the view of everyone behind them in the small theatre. Also, my version seems to have a slight delay between sound and vision, particularly off-putting when watching Rundgren sing or Prince's precise drumming. However, it's great to have a new Todd Rundgren set on DVD and accompanying CD after a spate of fuzzy archive releases, even if it isn't the most comfortable this band have looked onstage.