Sunday, February 14, 2010

Todd's bananas, but he's still a True Star

Today, the Mail on Sunday newspaper's David Bennun wrote a glowing review of the sold-out British concert premiere of Todd Rundgren's legendary 1973 album 'A Wizard, A True Star'.

"Todd's bananas, but he's still a True Star"
By David Bennun, Mail on Sunday (UK)
14th February 2010

The influence of The Beatles spreads so far through pop that tracking it is almost impossible, apart from one particular aspect: their eclecticism. That prompted a brief flurry of records that leapt gleefully from one genre to another, but the trend faded in the mid-Seventies.

Lately, however, it has been taken up by acts as hip as Super Furry Animals, as middle-of-the-road as Mika and as offbeat as Lawrence Arabia.

The missing link between such modern-style-hoppers and Liverpool's finest is Todd Rundgren (HMV Hammermsmith Apollo, London **** (4 stars).

Although the American rocker most widely known for producing Meat Loaf's 43 milion selling Bat Out of Hell is not so much missing as under-appreciated.

His Seventies solo work has a cult following and A Wizard, A True Star (1973) represents a peak among those albums inspired by Abbey Road, before the format buckled under the weight of Queen's A Night At The Opera.

AWATS, as Rundgren fans know it, is the beneficiary of another current trend: live performances of classic albums. But rather than simply turning up and playing AWATS to a full house, Rundgren has staged a show every bit as magnificently bananas as the record itself.

Picture a hotchpotch of Roxy Music, Monty Python and Tex Avery, set to a soundtrack that lurches between power pop, glam, cosmic rock, proto-metal, classic soul, chanson and Vaudeville. That last influence is particularly telling of Rundgren's debt to The Beatles, who kept a touch of the music hall about them to the last.

AWATS was an impossible album, dazzling, comical and endearingly outlandish. The same goes for this low-budget, high-concept performance. Rundgren hams it up through hilarious costume changes that reveal he might share Iggy Pop's haircut, but not his exercise regime.

Yet while Iggy is selling car insurance, Rundgren is dishing out mirth and rock'n'roll thrills.
It's taken long enough, but perhaps the world is ready to recognise his peculiar brilliance.

Photo Credit: (c) Carey Brandon

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Todd Rundgren triumphs with A Wizard, A True Star at the London Hammersmith Apollo

Todd Rundgren and his all-star band rolled into London last night for what will be remembered as a career defining concert - the British concert premiere of his 1973 epic album "A Wizard, A True Star."

The concert has been highly anticipated for a year now. Rundgren opened the show with a 30 minute set entitled Todd Rundgren's "Johnson." Todd (vocals, guitar), Kasim Sultan (bass), Jesse Gress (guitar) and Prairie Prince (drums)performed their own renditions of bluesman Robert Johnson. An album's worth of material is to follow in the coming months.

I was very sceptical about how Rundgren would pull off re-creating the music from Wizard and how he would keep the audience's attention. But like some outerspace theatrical glam rock, tongue and cheeck rock concert, the minute Todd walked on stage dressed in NASA astronaut's suit, you new this show was going to be on par with David Bowie's famous farewell Ziggy Stardust gig (at the same Hammersmith Apollo venue).

But this was Rundgren's defining moment. There were rock star moments in a rock and roll circus spetacle that was chaotic, fun and emotionally uplifting, and at times, heartfelt and poignant. Wizard was the album that defined a generation, and although it was originally panned by critics when it was released in 1973, it has since been namechecked by tons of young British bands.

Not only did the album combine several music genres and styles, but it also told the rollercoaster story of a psychedelic trip as driven by one of pop's greatest DIY wonders.

The costume changes brought back the theatricality of when rock and roll shows were an event. I don't know if Rundgren did this concsiously, but I haven't witnessed something theatrical like this since David Bowie stunned audiences with his memorable Diamond Dogs tour.

Vocally, Todd sounded impeccable. His Philly soul stylings touched a nerve, particularly when he sang the soul medly I'm So Proud / Ooh Baby Baby / La La Means I Love You / Cool Jerk.

When Bobby Strickland told everyone to get up on their feet during Cool Jerk, suddenly the gig skyrocketed into orbit with Hungry for Love, I Don't Want To Tie You Down, Is It My Name? and the encore One Last Victory.

As the concert drew to a close, the sold out 3,500 strong crowd, stood on their toes with wild applause. Todd Rundgren conquered London. It will be interesting to see what the 'True Star' will do next.

As we left the venue, there was a stall selling the entire concert on USB stick. The USB is available to order online from

Photo Credit: (c) John Rahim