Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Article: post show review Beacon Journal

Rundgren turns back to '70s
By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal music writer

POSTED: 06:54 p.m. EDT, Sep 07, 2009

Throughout his 40-year career, Todd Rundgren has seldom followed the latest musical/music business trends.

So when the singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer announced he would perform his 1972 album, A Wizard, A True Star in its entirety for the first time at the Akron Civic Theatre, it appeared that he was joining several other veteran acts such as Steely Dan and Aerosmith in the trend of playing classic albums.

But per usual, Rundgren didn't just do ''the usual,'' instead turning the live A.W.A.T.S. into an homage to the elaborately staged rock shows of the 1970s, complete with multiple costume changes, fancy lighting and an expanded ''all-star'' sextet band in white tuxes and tails.

Though the ''theatricalization'' of A.W.A.T.S. was known by fans, Rundgren did surprise many in the sold-out theater when the evening's opener turned out to be a reunion of Rundgren's eclectic prog/pop/rock band Utopia, which hasn't performed together in over a decade. They included original members keyboardist/singer Roger Powell and bassist/singer Kasim Sulton, and longtime Tubes/Rundgren drummer Prairie Prince, in place of John Wilcox.

''Hey, you're so kind. We're only the opening act,'' Rundgren said as the band, all wearing black jeans, sneakers and white tank tops performed a 40-minute-plus set that touched on both their arena rock ready tunes such as Hammer in My Heart and Abandon City, as well as its prog rock beginnings with a truncated version of the knotty half-hour piece Ikon, which allowed Rundgren, Powell and Sulton a few choruses each to show off their considerable instrumental chops.

As for the main event, Rundgren, 61, and his band successfully turned the odd, ambitious and endearing 55-m inute album into an odd, ambitious and endearing hour-plus visual and aural rock 'n' roll theater of the absurd. The opener, International Feel, found Rundgren entering the stage in a space suit, the first of eight costume changes that included a black tuxedo for the cover of Never Never Land, a foppish burgundy velvet jacket, pants and puffy shirt for You Don't Have to Camp Around, a shirt-less hippie/bird getup for Zen Archer and a fat costume that resembled the Tweedle Twins from Alice in Wonderland.

As one might expect with the world premiere of a show that involves costume and stop-start-on-a-dime quick musical changes, the show did not go off without a hitch. Rundgren had a few problems with his mic headset, a couple of times fans could hear him talking backstage while changing, one of the costume changes was premature, and the band missed a few cues. But for many Rundgren fans, those kinds of hiccups are a part of his appeal.

Musically, the band and Rundgren, who worked himself into a full body sweat, were solid, though as is frequently the case with rock shows at the Civic, fans not seated center stage got an uneven sound mix. Nevertheless, songs such as the guitar-driven Is It My Name rocked sufficiently and multi-instrumentalist and crowd favorite Bobby Strickland engaged in a saxophone/guitar duel with Rundgren on Zen Archer.

Rundgren stuck mostly to the album's 19 song (on CD) original running order, moving the fist-pumping When The S--- Hits the Fan/Le Feel Internationale from its spot at the end of Side A to the end and turning the album's closer, the concert staple Just One Victory, into a sing-along encore.

Presumably, as the nine-date minitour rolls into Chicago and eventually ends early next year in London, the miscues will have been ironed out, and the show will surely be tighter. But long-time Todd fans (the median age of the crowd was way north of 40) who have been watching and listening to Rundgren work out his wacky ideas on records and on stage for ye ars (TR-I, anyone?) know that witnessing the warts as well as the magic is all part of the fun.

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