Todd Rundgren – Todd (DVD review)

Todd Rundgren – Todd – DVD review

1974 must’ve been a particularly memorable year for Todd Rundgren.  Last year, he reformed the prog-rock version of Utopia (which he originally formed in ’74) for a US tour.  Now comes an entire live performance of Todd, originally a double album released in, you guessed it, 1974.  In a way, that album is his most underrated, taking the 2-LP blueprint from his breakthrough Something/Anything and turning it inside out.  The album contains several of his best compositions, including the poignant breakup song “The Last Ride,” the lullaby-like “A Dream Goes on Forever,” and the moody “Don’t You Ever Learn.”  But, Todd also contains a fair amount of over indulgence: the goofy “An Elpee’s Worth of Toons,” and “King Kong Reggae,” the even more absurd “Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare,” and the experimental “The Spark of Life.”

Rundgren opens the concert, dressed in a shiny blue robe that would’ve made Stonehenge-era Spinal Tap proud, while the light show is crude and straight out of the mid-Seventies.  And, that’s the point here; to reproduce this album as faithfully as possible.  Rundgren’s band is an amalgam of his entire career, featuring bassist Kasim Sulton (who played with Todd in Utopia), drummer Prairie Prince (who Todd produced while in the Tubes), keyboardist Greg Hawkes (who played with Todd in the New Cars), as well as guitarist Jesse Gress and saxophonist Bobby Strickland (who’ve both played on several of his recent solo projects).  Todd himself switches often during the show between guitar and keyboards (in fact, several songs are so rich in synthesizers, it sometimes takes three musicians to recreate all the music).

For the concert, Todd is in fine voice and the sound is (not surprisingly) fantastic.  And, while most musicians would’ve tuned down to reach the notes, he leaves everything in it’s original key.  Rundgren’s Seventies’ productions could sometimes feel a little “over-baked” (he was playing ALL the instruments on his albums back then).  Taken in a live setting, with the musicians feeding off each other, these songs have a chance to breathe like never before.  And that’s the true triumph of this DVD – it makes you re-evaluate an album you may have passed over the first time around.

As an added treat, the DVD features an extremely in-depth conversation with Rundgren conducted by award-winning interviewer Ray Firestone, recorded in his hometown of Philadelphia in front of a live audience.  Firestone leaves no stone unturned, and gets Todd to address many of the most controversial subjects of his career, including how a session with Janis Joplin fell to pieces, how he got shafted on the Badfinger album, and what Todd thinks of former manager Albert Grossman.    The only drawback is that the interview abruptly ends right in the middle, leaving us hanging for the next installment in the series (smart move!).  –Tony Peters