JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

January 20, 2016
Granada Theater
Dallas, TX USA
Review by David DiPietro
Photos by Dave Gray

Todd Rundgren

Todd Rundgren: A True Star

Virtuoso guitarist, enigmatic whiz kid, studio "Wizard (a True Star)," Todd Rundgren has pushed the boundaries of rock music since forming the mod-influenced outfit, the Nazz in the 1960s.

A sold out Granada Theater of adoring fans welcomed him to Dallas Wednesday night and with a career spanning 2 hour+ set, Rundgren and his 4 piece backing band did not disappoint.

Taking the blue and purple-lit stage at just after 8 p. m. , Rundgren, 67, and company immediately launched into, "I Saw the Light," one of his biggest hits, from the Something/Anything album in 1972. His voice has never sounded better and the soaring harmonies immediately filled the packed to the hilt concert hall.

By the time of the second number, a glistening "Love of the Common Man," the Granada house sound was dialed-in and perfect from my vantage point, front row center.

Rundgren, early in the show, foreshadowed the style of the evening's performance: "We'll be playing all those songs you've been hectoring me about and saying 'How come you didn't play it the way I remember it from, like, 45 years ago?'"

Reaching back to 1968, "Open My Eyes" was nailed perfectly and surged and ebbed just as it did on the debut Nazz album. Rundgren nailed the spiraling, psychedelic solo with panache. A classic, that I first heard in the mid 70's, on Lenny Kaye's Nuggets compilation.

The anti-war tune "Lysistrata" (original recorded by his band Utopia 35 years ago was majestic and reeking with pathos.

Prairie Prince, the former drummer of the Tubes, was fantastically fluid throughout the night. Solid beat-wise as the anchor of a Norwegian Cruise Ship, Prince executed complicated fills through out the evening with a subtlety that belied their sophistication. To say he is an underrated drummer in 2016, would be an understatement.

Todd's formula for the evening was to trade off playing guitar for a song or 2 and to then sing while his lime green Stratocaster was being re-tuned by his guitar tech, after one of his blistering solos. And I mean blistering; with shards of sustained feedback, lightning runs and trademark lightning pull-offs.

When Rundgren was not playing guitar, the leads were handled with panache by Jesse Gress, whom is such a dead-ringer for Rundgren himself, I thought he *was* Rundgren when he initially took the stage. John Ferenzik was solid to the degree that keyboard wunderkind Todd did not feel the need to play any. He also harmonized nicely with Rundgren on background vocals.

"Sweet," was just that. syrupy, succulent, scintillating, as was "Love in Action," one of the 3 Todd Rundgren's Utopia tunes played on the evening. "Fascist Christ," a sarcastic diatribe about the hypocrisy of religion had much of the crowds of about 1,100 in hysterics.

After an equally terse, "Blind," a set of marimbas were rolled to Todd's spot at the center of the stage as he took his guitar off and was handed a pair of sticks. This was no surprise. The guy is well-known as a multi-instrumentalist and has recorded entire albums playing every instrument, in his 48-year career. There are not many drummers who can sing lead and play at the same time, and that is why few do. Todd is an exception to that rule, to the nth degree and "Bang the Drum All Day," was inspiring.

"Kiddie Boy," returned to the second album, Nazz Nazz, and was performed flawlessly. Kasim Sulton, who has been performing with Rundgren since he was 21, in his days with Utopia, was exceptional during this number. He could probably play with Weather Report, or Jaco Pastorious' old band, too if he ever wanted to.

The band exited the stage to great applause with the shining duo of "Drive," and a rich re-working of Utopia's dystopian, "One World." After a few minutes backstage to dry their well-earned sweat, the band returned for the encore, with an inspiring version of "Number One Lowest Common Denominator," with Rundgren and Gress exchanging leads as they had done throughout the concert.

What can be said about the next number, "Hello, it's Me," other than it is classic? Originally included on the first Nazz album in 68, the song has assumed epic proportions of popularity since it was re-recorded for Something/Anything in '72. Rundgren was smart to not let the would be hit be buried on an album that would be out of print until the mid 1990's. It was a great way to end the evening and many if not all of the crowd exiting the Granada realized for an evening they had been in the presence of a musical genius. And I don't throw that word around lightly.

The Band
Todd Rundgren
John Ferenzik, Keyboards
Kasim Sulton, Bass
Jesse Gress Guitar
Prairie Prince Drums