Somebody Took Our God Away.
Live Review by
Jon Dunmore © June 1995.
call Todd Rundgren eclectic would be an understatement.
Todd Rundgren's worlds traverse galaxies
well beyond our pitifully insignificant existences. Only those
who have been exposed to his three-decade oeuvre would
hove near grasping where this artist hails from - everywhere at
once; which brings us back to the term eclectic, I suppose,
making for some nice redundant verbosity.
To know Todd Rundgren is to worship him; his
street-cred remains ever staunch. Fans call him Todd. Just Todd.
Almost like a tag of ownership of "their" artist; they are never
alienated or demeaned by the status they have bestowed upon him,
for Todd carries none of the pretensions one would expect from
someone who has gone head-to-head with an unsympathetic industry
for as long as he has, and come out alive and kicking.
In years to come the name Todd, like Jesus, will be a revered
moniker and young students at the Los Angeles Temple Of Wankery
(aka The Musician’s Institute) will get rapped across the knuckles
for speaking His name in vain...
The flyers touted this show as MULTIMEDIA PROGRESSIVE POP, conjuring
horrifying visions of a once-noble artist now lost onstage amidst
banks of computer monitors, keyboards, projection screens running
endless reels of arty-farty student films, be-jumpsuited technicians
wearing dark sunglasses like Devo and those blue bzzz things
from Frankenstein movies. Thankfully, I saw nothing but a five-piece
rock band when the curtains parted. (Shame on Todd for pandering
to the unsigned singer-songwriter gambit of trying to non-pigeonhole
his niche by plastering a dumb name on the niche itself.)
As the band opened the set with If Not Now, When? (from new album, The Individualist), I think
everyone was asking the same question: "Why is Todd (Our
Hero, The Prophet Of Prescience) shoeless, and clad only in a
vest and orange and black sarong?" He may be each era’s iconoclastic
musical renaissance man, but Todd is the world's last justifiably
real HIPPY. (Well, maybe Dennis Hopper can lay equal claim to
that distinction.) If his songs did not impart his philosophies
so succinctly, he could never pull off such audacity.
But that is why he is Todd. Because he can get away with it, "I
want you all to buy a sarong and wear it to your power lunches..."
He is at a stage where he has done
so much for relatively so little reward - teen superstardom and
superlative merchandising have always eluded him (not to say that
he ever aggressively pursued The Man's yardsticks of success)
- that his attitude bespeaks the contempt he harbors towards those
quivering, ignorant little men in ponytails whom he must deal
with to promulgate his misunderstood product. His work reflects
his love of creativity on HIS terms and his equal amount of vitriol
towards The Establishment. He was, as expected, insightful and
But that is why he is Todd.
I will not be so forgiving with his band, though - they are, after
all - NOT Todd... and they seemed shoddily-rehearsed
and nervous. (Jesse Gresse on 2nd guitar, John Ferenzik
- who looked like a pharmacist who'd won a contest to "be onstage
with Todd" - on 3rd guitar/ keyboards, Prairie Prince drumming
and Larry Tagg on bass.)
Though seasoned pros all, it didn't stop Todd from seemingly overwhelming
them with his presence.
Like the late, superbly great Zappa,
Rundgren was always an adventurer over unknown musical boundaries;
an innovator, a Hermit of Mink Hollow, the prolific Ever-Popular
Tortured Artist, a Feet-Don't-Fail-Me-Now Wizard, a Runt, a True
Star... It was destined that he would one day give us Something
- Anything - to usher music into new realms. With his shoeless
feet planted firmly at the forefront of the fledgling CD-i (CD-interactive)
revolution, he will hopefully explode out of the cult artiste mold which has been his skulking forte all these years.
As evidenced by his demeanor at this show; the crowd was pumped
and teetering on the edge of frenzy, but Todd shrugged off the
opportunity to leap into the Rock God role and stir up the natives.
In fact, he adopted such a contrary stance that even a smoothly-paced
set was out of the question. After every number, the band would
literally stand around in discussion, like a pub act. Todd: "There's
a bit of the interactive element onstage - none of us know what
the next song is."
Though it was refreshing to see a raw, live band pounding out
his post-90s material, I found myself longing for the arrogant
cohesion of Utopia - Kasim Sulton, Willie Wilcox and Roger Powell,
arguably the best band Todd ever recruited - and that slickness
and otherworldliness they portrayed. Todd's current band are merely
human. And as with any product that appeals to a wide demographic,
this band seemed to lack a stance. There should have been a sprinkling
of a few Utopia classics to salt the stew - Just One Victory,
Rock Love, One World - but there was a definite aversion to
any of his vast, brilliant pre-90s catalog.
And speaking of otherworldliness, let
us speak of Todd's unlikely support act, Mumbo's Brain: Sound
imagery and tribal psychedelia, a bald, gawky, grievous-bodily-harm
vocalist who couldn't quite work the stage (looking non-cool in
his attempts to do so), and a valiant attempt at dynamic, inspiring
music. Amid the House Of Blues nuveau-trash decor and 'art' dumbo-jumbo,
Mumbo's stage props of globes, spirals and wildly-painted speaker
cabs looked rather tepid. Their guitar sound was their forte;
altogether a mange-tearing cacophony and an immersion in bubbly
goop; a mixture of honey-gone-stale and tortured lemmings...
Todd himself wrung out some unexpectedly
ferocious hellfire guitar - dazzling high points in a set which,
through his humor, came close to tightening up its occasional
lulls, "I don't know whether you've noticed, but I've just
sacked two band members."
At night’s end, the fans dutifully
clamored for more. He was, after all, Todd. And he graced us with
Us mere mortals may ponder many things about the enigma that is
Todd Rundgren (How does his voice hold so firm through all that
straining?; how could a leviathan like Utopia dissolve into memory?;
how is he holding up that sarong?). But it is not our place to
second-guess the genius. It is not our place to judge the paths
He chooses to forge. And if He should falter in His mighty machete
strokes, we will absolve Him of all sin nonetheless...
That is why he is Todd. Forever and
And in the last words of the last song,
Todd summed it all up in one subliminal masterstroke, as he sang, "Somebody took our god away! Somebody took our god away!" under the House Of Blues marquee which depicts, quite aptly, a
flaming heart surrounded by a crown of thorns...
The Earl of Eclectic
(None of the pics here are from the 1995 gig at HOB. Hell, I didn't even have a computer then, let alone digital photo devices...This article was originally typed on a real live "word processor"!)
JUST ONE VICTORY
Utopia live. YouTube
Todd, Kasim Sulton in live power trio. YouTube