JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

March 26, 2012
House of Blues - Dallas
Dallas, TX USA
Review by Bob Birdwell
Photos by Barry Bond

Todd Rundgren

Seriously, what can be said about Todd Rundgren that hasn't already been said? After 40-plus years of work, the reviews on this musician have been cranked out ad nauseam. However, because I happen to be a decades-long Todd Rundgren fan, maybe I can put a different spin on an artist I hold in the highest regard. As a true fan - and an opportunist - I mostly want to elaborate about the experience of the quintessential Todd Rundgren fan.

The T.R. experience

As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself to be the quintessential Todd Rundgren fan. I can claim that title with a pretty high degree of confidence as I have met many others who are eerily like me. We are knowledgeable about Todd's huge catalog of material, and familiar with the historical twist and turns of his career. We have traveled across the country to see him perform and we will buy any material he puts out for public consumption. Mostly, we are all passionate about the music that has been our constant companion throughout our lives.

I have a good friend who I first met at a show in Akron, OH. He had recently lost a leg to disease and was coping with wheel chairs, a prosthetic limb, grueling physical therapy and, mostly, the psychological battle of losing a limb. Through every phase of his journey he had Todd Rundgren playing in his ears and in his head. My personal introduction to the music was through my friend and brother-in-law, RIP. He is buried with some T.R. vinyl. We are unexpectedly a community of kindred spirits.

So what is it about this music that draws us in? This particular night at the House of Blues, there was a particularly verklempt introductory moment for me during the show, as I am sure there was for all of us in attendance. It came while I was listening to the intro of "How About a Little Fanfare" from the Todd LP. I was indifferent at the time to this intro, but thinking back, it did strike me as interesting and different. That was the worm hole for me. After that I melted into the soulful, passionate pieces like "Don't You Ever Learn," "The Last Ride" and the one the really blew my mind, "The Spark of Life!" These pieces, and hundreds of others, are compelling because they are a confluence of sonic brilliance and meaningful intellectual prose. Todd's music is an opiate, of sorts, for many of us.

I'm going to incorporate the two Todd shows I attended. The first was at the historic Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Cain's is not what it used to be - and intimate setting where the audience sat at tables in front of a one-foot high stage. Now under new ownership, the stage is several feet above the flat room now filled with rows of folding chairs. General admission areas are to the sides and in the back of the room. Those ubiquitous rows of chairs resemble the old Soviet Military in parade formation. The charm of this landmark building has summarily transformed into a cold, sterile room.

Regardless of the setting, Todd was in fine form this evening. His voice was in excellent shape. In fact, the soulful "Hawking", from his superb album, Nearly Human, was so good it brought tears to some eyes in the room. The band was tight and they whipped through a set list that included many of Todd's hits over the past 40 years. We were teased several times during the evening with the opening notes of "Hello It's Me," only to have the band morph into an unexpected tune from his vast catalogue. The only downer is that Todd didn't play the guitar much, which is something most fans enjoy. He seemed to be having fun as several times throughout the evening he shouted "Where's my Okies?" At one point during the show he alluded to his fondness for Tulsa; no doubt due to the fact that his son played baseball with the minor league Tulsa Drillers. It was a great night for Todd fans and a great night for Tulsa. To bad the Cain's Ballroom sucks!

This brings me to the Dallas concert at the House of Blues. Everyone could tell after the first few vocal attempts, Todd wasn't quite himself. As I was to find out later, he was feeling pretty sick, but as they say, the show must go on. It was a recent onset of 'whatever was ailing him' because as I alluded to earlier, his voice was outstanding just four nights earlier. Along with a decent mix of material, Todd included most of his hits tonight, which was a treat as much as it is a rarity. It was particularly good for those just being introduced to his work. I brought a 'Todd-virgin' friend with me to the Tulsa show. He was utterly amazed to discover some of those hits were Todd Rundgren's. Aside from the strained vocals, the music was tight. Kasim Sultan, Jesse Gress, John Ferenzick and Prairie Prince have played this material for years. They did so again this evening with extraordinary skill. Just like the Tulsa show, however, it would have been nice to hear more of Todd on the guitar.

A few of us had the rare opportunity to chat with the band after the show. While Jesse left the room rather quickly, Kasim, John and Prairie were jovial hosts. Even though he was clearly under the weather, Todd graciously chatted with those assembled and took time out to pose for photos in between the occasional coughs into the arm of his shirt. For someone who had grown up with Todd's music an integral part of their life, standing next to this icon was quite surreal. It was also very easy to forgive his struggles during the Dallas performance.

Set List:
Real Man
Love of the Common Man
Buffalo Grass
Determination
Kindhearted Woman
Lucky Guy
Can We Still Be Friends?
Endless Prairie
Espresso
Love Is the Answer
It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference
I Want You
Lost Horizon
Flaw
Soul Brother
I'm So Proud / Ooh Baby Baby
Hawking
I Saw the Light
Courage
Couldn't I Just Tell You?
Hello It's Me (Encore)
A Dream Goes on Forever (Encore)