Sunday, September 12, 2010

review: St. Louis show

By Daniel Durchholz • Special to the Post-Dispatch | Posted: Saturday, September 11, 2010 8:00 pm

What seemed like a fairly esoteric pursuit for Todd Rundgren turned into a magical musical night on Friday at Roberts Orpheum Theater, where the veteran recording artist played two complete albums from his distant past: 1974's "Todd" and 1981's "Healing."

Both are regarded as being among Rundgren's more insular works. Despite a few lush ballads and straight-ahead rockers, "Todd" is rife with sonic experimentation and studio tomfoolery; "Healing" is a synthesizer-driven concept album about spirituality.

But in concert, Rundgren brought them springing back to life by turning the stage into a time capsule. Psychedelic costumes as well as period lighting — vintage lasers and a primitive video screen — recalled the eras in which the music originated.

More modern contrivances — wireless instruments, headset microphones — as well as rollaway carts for the drum kit and keyboards allowed Rundgren and his five-piece band to come and go as was necessary, giving the stage a constantly evolving look that added to the presentation's theatricality.

The show's first half — the "Todd" portion — was a potent reminder of that album's eclectic nature. As it unfolded, Rundgren embodied the smooth, soulful balladeer on "A Dream Goes On Forever" and "The Last Ride"; the bold but trippy guitar hero on "Everybody's Going to Heaven/King Kong Reggae" and "No. 1 Lowest Common Denominator"; and the willful nut who thought it would be a great idea to insert Gilbert and Sullivan's "Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song" into the middle of a rock album. Despite an early vocal flub, he eventually mastered the song's machine-gun verbosity.

True to the album's spirit, Rundgren even brought out a tap dancer for a few rudimentary steps during "Useless Begging." But he judiciously excised the tedious synth workout "In and Out the Chakras We Go" from the proceedings, and the first set ended with the gorgeous, downbeat "Don't You Ever Learn?"

For "Healing," Rundgren and his band were occasionally joined by some singers recruited from Webster University. Not only were they terrific, they seemed to be having the time of their lives.

As Rundgren sang the album's probing lyrics, he paced back and forth and gestured significantly, as if he was rethinking anew issues addressed in songs such as "Flesh," "Compassion" and "Time Heals."

Out of sequence though it was, "Sons of 1984" — actually the finale of "Todd" — served as the show's encore. As the curtain came down and the band dropped out, the audience continued singing its chorus for some time — a remarkable ending to a remarkable show.


No comments: