When are you too old for rock 'n' roll? That's the age-old question these days, as the Rolling Stones, The Who, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, and countless others who put the sex in sexagenarian continue to take their acts on the road long after hitting The Big 6-0.
Talk about old school. Todd Rundgren just turned 60 on June 22, but that isn't
stopping him from exploring new ground, finding new friends, and continuing to inspire young and old alike. Just ask his legion of fans, who were invited to attend "Toddstock," his 60th birthday bash on the island of Kauai, where A Wizard/A True Star provided a week of fun (a custom comic book by Ryan Estrada was even commissioned for the celebration), games, and music. It was capped with a sneak preview of his touring group that went on to perform his new CD, Arena, in its entirety.
Sure, rock 'n' roll might remain a young man's game but Rundgren doesn't act his age. He remains vigorous, excitable, creative, innovative, and productive, while still looking the part of Rock Star with the two-toned 'do, ever-present shades and black leather pants.
Forget Madonna turning 50. Rundgren, the Blue-Eyed Soul Brother, invented the reinvention. Glam Rock, Prog Rock, Heavy Metal (Kids) Rock, Techno-Todd Rock, Power Pop Rock, Soft Rock, Classic Rock, you name it and he can do it.
He and his group that includes erstwhile touring buds Jesse Gress (guitar) and Prairie
Prince (drums), along with recent additions Rachel Haden (bass, formerly of The Rentals) and Matt Bolton (keyboards, guitar), hit the ground running at the Boulder Theater in Colorado on July 14. He was tanned, rested, and ready to please.
It was a special occasion for the summer tour, with the show recorded by HDNet for a DVD release that is expected to be available (with bundle options) when Arena drops in the U.S. on Sept. 30. Will Hoge played an extended set and performed admirably. And despite sitting through some delays because of a few technical glitches involving the video production, a patient general-admission crowd at the Boulder Theater enthusiastically greeted Rundgren and Co.
Rundgren apologized upfront for the delay, then made everyone forget about it with a flurry of many of his fan favorites, including "Love in Action," "Black Maria," The Nazz's "Open My Eyes" and "I Saw the Light," along with recently added '80s covers, The Call's "When the Walls Came Down" and Red Rider's "Lunatic Fringe."
On a sweaty summer night, after one I've-got-blisters-on-my-fingers moment on the guitar he calls "Foamy," Rundgren joked, "There goes the foundation."
Then he prepared the crowd for what was to come, counting down the minutes before his latest "Mad" experiment would begin. Arena, with tunes appropriately written and performed for an arena- or stadium-type atmosphere, kicks out the jams with other one-word titles such as "Mercenary " ("How do you like me now?"), "Gun" and "Strike."
On "Gun," Rundgren borrows the Full Metal Jacket Marine marching line, "This is my rifle, this is my gun! This is for fightin', this is for fun," while on "Strike," he asks "Are you ready to rumble?" then implores listeners to "strike while the iron is hot" with an AC/DC-like wail.
But it's the melodic "Courage," with its catchy hooks, that might turn out to be the best song on the album, though it's doubtful any professional sports teams will give it the "Bang The Drum" treatment to psyche up a crowd. On this night, Rundgren was so confident he even gave his listeners "a money-back guarantee" if they didn't like it. Presumably, there were no takers. The bluesy "Weakness" also provided the crowd with a break in the action, but that didn't last long.
The encores included can't-miss anthems "Couldn't I Just Tell You" (featuring line kicks with Haden, who is Petra's sister and the daughter of jazz bassist Charlie Haden) and "Just One Victory," dating back to the '70s. Todd and I go way back to then, although he
doesn't know it.
Two years after the success of his Something/Anything double album, he went in another fascinating direction and in April 1974 arrived in Mobile, Ala.
Copies of a letter signed "Todd R" were handed out to each concertgoer before the show, explaining what was going to happen that night and introducing the other five musicians, including Moogy Klingman and Ralph Schuckett on keyboards, M. Frog (aka M. Frog Labat, Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi) on synthesizers, Kevin Ellman on drums and John Siegler on bass. They all were key players in Utopia's debut album, which was released later that year.
"We are featuring some new music this tour," read the letter with the Bearsville logo, "so following the familiar 'Utopia Theme' and selections from the latest solo lp, Todd, we are debuting 'The Freak Parade' and a 30 minute piece tentatively titled 'The Ikon.'"
Promising a sound that would "scramble your brains and toast your ears," the skinny kid from the Philly 'burbs went through the sparse crowd during "Hello It's Me," shaking almost every hand (including mine) in the theater. My girlfriend and I were so enamored, we followed (they didn't call it stalking back then) the tour bus after the show and after introducing ourselves at a Chinese restaurant, we were invited by the Toddfather to join the boys in the band for dinner. If only we had stayed.
That same charisma and magnetic energy remain, 34 years later. Rundgren's been known to make a few bad turns (The New Cars, anyone?), but always manages to get back on his feet.
Even in Boulder, there were some stumbles, including an actual trip and fall that has happened on more than one occasion on this tour, leaving cynics to think the move is calculatingly staged. Who cares?
Near the end of his 90-minute show, Rundgren broke a string on the guitar but barely missed a beat as his toga-clad roadie strapped a light-green replacement around his body. Rundgren got his freak parade on and the loyal members of the Todd Squad loved every minute of it.
A dream goes on forever for this multi-talented performer and incredibly underrated guitarist. Never known to play it safe, he's closing out the summer with an odd collection of musicians (Lou Gramm, Christopher Cross, Denny Laine, Bo Bice) in a series of shows paying tribute to The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band called "Forty Years Ago Today," then will return to the Arena tour, this time reuniting with longtime fellow Utopian Kasim Sulton, who will take over for Bolton on keyboards and guitar.
It also was recently reported on Rundgren Radio that the well-rounded musician will soon record an EP with selected Robert Johnson tunes.
While pleasant but predictable performers such as Flo & Eddie and Eric Burdon go through the motions during the waxing nostalgic trip called "Hippiefest" and bassist extraordinaire Jack Bruce wonders who booked him for that gig, Rundgren always keeps them guessing.
And that act will never grow old.
Boulder Theater set list:
Love In Action
Walls Came Down
Open My eyes
I Saw The Light
Couldn't I just Tell You
Just One Victory
Todd Rundgren tour dates at Pollstar.Powered by Sidelines