by Mark Casasanto
There was a homecoming of sorts last night just outside the Philadelphia city limits. Like so many times before, in what is now an almost fifty year career, Todd Rundgren returned, literally, to his home town of Upper Darby and the venerable Tower Theater.
Sitting at the intersection of 69th and Market Streets, the legendary Tower was once a staple in the itineraries of performing luminaries such as David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Genesis, Paul Simon, Prince and more. Todd Rundgren is not exactly a stranger to its stage either, be it as a solo artist, or with Utopia, Rundgren’s on again, off again band that was responsible for the soft rock hit, “Love Is The Answer”.
Returning as part of Yestival, a three-act tour featuring 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, and headliners, Yes and opening act, Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy, (he being the Palmer of Emerson, Lake and Palmer), Rundgren holds court as the man in middle. And from that tough, sometimes rather unenviable spot, he did not disappoint.
Sure, mega-hits such as “We Gotta Get You a Woman”, “Bang the Drum All Day” and “I Saw the Light” were missing from the set list, and yes, many “Toddies” were bummed. Honestly, so too was I. But, we are talking about creating a 12 song set list as a supporting act from well over forty years of music. The need to respect an artist’s right to focus on material that fits the scope of the tour and the music of the night, for lack of better terms, also comes into play. With that, save from two Utopia cuts and the encore, Rundgren’s entire set was derived from the year 2000 and up, including three tracks from his latest release, White Knight.
Say what you want, Rundgren’s stage show and light set, even if not the headlining act, is captivating. So much so, I literally moved back from orchestra pit seats to the last few rows of the seating bowl in order to realize the full intent of his lighting queues. Rundgren is indeed an innovative mind and it’s evident in his flawless staging, from band positioning to lighting to audio, he’s a true master.
Rundgren opened with “Come” off his May release, White Knight. He was backed by four pieces all donned as he in black suits with red ties, and two stunning back up singers flanked to his left and right respectively. The vibe harkened back to mid-eighties MTV videos, complete with choreographed dances moves. In fact, it wasn’t until, the fifth song in, Utopia’s 1974, “The Ikon”, did the crowd bear witness to the sleeveless black shirt, and the legendary green guitar named “foamy” strapped across his waist. From that point on, he and the band conquered the Tower.
The set found its rocking grove midway through with a series of stand outs rolled off in succession. The love infected saga “Buffalo Grass”, the hard charging “This Is Not A Drill”, the hands in the air, dance in the aisles, good time known as “Party Liquor” with the unforgettable hook, “it’s party liquor time!”… these songs all gave way to the interesting take on the investment in life, love and reality, “Buy My T”. The latter effort complimented by an arena-esque shirt toss courtesy of Todd and the girls.
The second Utopia song of the set, the very underrated, “One World”, with its bass line literally lifting feet off the theater’s floor and Rundgren running the stage and commanding the crowd perfectly capped the set, dare I say… rockstar style? After a well deserved ovation, the native son stepped to the mic for the first time to speak what may have been his only words all night when he introduced the song that he said, “I wrote this like fifty years ago right down there in a dingy little bar on South Street.”
His impressive quartet then launched into the familiar keyboard riff to “Hello It’s Me”. Perfectly portraying a slow, rolling, bluesy version that highlighted Rundgren’s crisp, sultry vocals (of which were in fine form all throughout the set), his band was tight and obviously well-seasoned as a cohesive unit.
Part arena anthem, part sing along. As the most iconic songs usually are, picture if you will, three thousand plus in attendance singing out the songs final lines “think of me, think of me…” There’s something to be said about imagery, be it audio or visual, to close a show. It’s almost a forever thing.
The headliners played their set, took their bows and boarded their tour bus for the next gig on the sheet, somewhere down the road. The long night of music came to an end and on the walk back to the car, as these things often go after a concert, there were a couple different people singing along the way… “Hello It’s Me…”