Caravan Music Club – Saturday July 20, 2013
Reviewed by Brian Wise
Apparently, Todd Rundgren did not know until recently that his song ‘Can We Still Be Friends?’ from the 1978 album The Hermit of Mink Hollow, had been a hit in Australia.
That’s why his last tour here in 2010 was devoted to his album of Robert Johnson songs, while the visit with Ringo Starr’s All Stars earlier this year had him singing ‘I Saw The Light’ (from 1972’s Something/Anything?).
So, while Rundgren has a new album out that he could have been promoting (Slate), he performed no songs from it all but instead revisited his back catalogue for the benefit of eager fans. As they say, go figure! But no one will ever accuse Mr Rundgren of being an opportunist: after all, he has waited 35 years to play his biggest ever hit single here.
This time around, armed with his four-piece band of long-time compatriots, it was Rundgren’s turn to showcase the considerable breadth of a catalogue that stretches back forty years and at least half a dozen musical styles. But guess what? The best reaction of the night came when he performed that old hit that can still be heard on gold radio!
Rundgren is renowned for his production work for people such as Badfinger, XTC, Patti Smith and Meatloaf (who was booed when he was here two years ago singing at a football final); and, he is probably equally known amongst guitar-heads for his recordings with Utopia as he is amongst aficionados for his daring excursions on Something/Anything? and the revered A Wizard A True Star.
As luck would have it, and with some irony, a technical glitch held up the show for half an hour until a recalcitrant amp was finally replaced and Rundgren arrived, professing that the delay was not because he wanted to be fashionably late.
A bit more angst ensued during the first few songs – ‘Real Man,’ ‘Love Of The Common People’ and ‘Buffalo Grass’ – when Rundgren’s voice seemed as though it had been struck by Melbourne’s virulent winter flu virus. (Added to the technical problems and the size of the venue – it’s really a small hall – this show was always going to be hard work).
But as he said, while introducing Robert Johnson’s ‘Kindhearted Woman,’ ‘when all else fails turn to the blues.’ Fortunately, the vocal cords soon warmed up and he seemed to visibly relax.
Despite the vocal tremors, Rundgren was able to rely on a rock solid band that includes John Ferenzik (Jefferson Starship) on keyboards, drummer Prairie Prince (The Tubes, Jefferson Starship), guitarist Jesse Gress and on long-time bassist Kasim Sulton (who has been with Rundgren for more than 35 years). The harmony vocals of Gress and Sulton were also an important addition, especially when Rundgren was struggling.
‘Can We Still Be Friends?’ came early with Rundgren noting that he had ‘some business to get out of the way.’ It got the expected enthusiastic response and encouraged some people onto the dance floor. It also encouraged him to immediately play two more songs from the same album.
Yet this was followed by a string of songs from albums that almost no-one here would have owned. Then, ‘It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference’ arrived and got a murmur of recognition in the same mutated Bossa Nova form in which it appeared on the With A Twist lounge album of a few years back.
A few songs later, Rundgren launched into a beautiful rendition of ‘I’m So Proud/Ooh Baby Baby’ from A Wizard A True Star, then immediately returned to a With A Twist version of ‘I Want You.’ ‘I Saw The Light’ received another almost rapturous welcome – perhaps in mere recognition – before another sharp left turn.
This seemed to encapsulate Rundgren’s career: he does so many different things so well that he cannot be pinned down. Listen to those early albums such as Something/Anything? and A Wizard – they are all over the place.
Rundgren’s hit album, Hermit of Mink Hollow, was his most musically consistent but then he followed it with Healing and The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect – albums that barely nudged the middle of the charts.
That musical unpredictability is probably what has stunted Rundgren’s commercial success but it is also what makes him interesting. Later, ‘Couldn’t I Just Tell You’ was just about the best piece of power-pop this venue had ever witnessed.
‘Hello It’s Me’ and ‘A Dream Goes On Forever’ were nice show closers but it seemed almost strange to be watching this 65-year-old man singing pop songs released when he was in his twenties! (Still, we better get used to it!)
The mind can only boggle at how Rundgren was able to reproduce A Wizard A True Star in concert recently but there were a few hints here. He gave us a reasonable overview of his career and his performance – as some of his albums have been – was occasionally inspired.
Having waited 40 or so years to see him here with his own band, playing songs from across his entire catalogue most fans would have left fairly satisfied.
Real Man (Initiation, 1975
Love Of The Common Man (Faithful, 1976)
Buffalo Grass (One Long Year, 2000)
Kindhearted Woman Blues (Johnson, 2010)
Determination (Hermit Of Mink Hollow, 1978)
Lucky Guy (Hermit Of Mink Hollow, 1978)
Can We Still Be Friends (Hermit Of Mink Hollow, 1978)
Espresso (All Jacked Up) (The Individualist, 1995)
Love Is The Answer (Utopia’s Oops! Wrong Planet, 1977)
It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference (With A Twist…, 1997)
Lost Horizon (A Cappella, 1985)
Flaw (Liars, 2004)
Soul Brother (Liars, 2004)
I’m So Proud/Ooh Baby Baby (A Wizard A True Star, 1973)
I Want You (With A Twist…, 1997)
Hawking (Nearly Human, 1989)
I Saw The Light (Something/Anything?, 1972)
Courage (Arena, 2008)
Drive (The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, 1982)
Couldn’t I Just Tell You (Something/Anything?, 1972)
Hello It’s Me (Something/Anything?, 1972)
A Dream Goes On Forever here. Maybe that sort of show would work perfectly at one of the many arts festivals.
(from Todd, 1974