Todd Rundgren Hammersmith Apollo

You wake to find yourself standing and talking at a party.
It doesn’t have to be your party.
In fact it isn’t.
But that’s not to say that you’ve gatecrashed it, either.
What’s wrong with you?
You don’t always have to gatecrash a party?
You could just try going to the ones that you’re invited to, for once. But where would be the fun in that?
Besides, who wants to be at a party where you already know people?
It’s like going to a restaurant and already knowing exactly what you’re going to eat and drink?
Knowing every taste before your lips envelope the offering from the end of your fork or part to consume it from the rim of the glass. It’s like boarding a train without a book to read and already knowing every single, exact sight you will see from the train window before you see it.
It’s like being stuck on a train and not being able to see out of the window but having only the book to read that you’ve just finished reading.

But, for the sake of this conversation, let’s just say that you haven’t gatecrashed this party. The point is that you’re standing and talking at the party amongst a group of guests. The lights are low and it’s hot. It has the feeling of being an intimate affair although the room is lacking the familiarity of a group of people who already know each other. Instead, it feels like the guests are united by a common acquaintance or host, but not each other. At least not yet.

The conversation is friendly though unremarkable and indistinct and, when you concentrate to hear, you realise it’s inaudible, almost like the “rhubarb, rhubarb” of background extras: of meat props in a movie not of their making. You realise that you are not supposed to be hearing the conversations of the other guests because
you are not part of those conversations. You also realise that the beer that you are holding is growing increasingly warm in your hand. You ask yourself if you should order less or drink faster? You settle on the latter. Faster Pussycat, kill, kill, kill.

Suddenly, there’s a distraction, a loud noise accompanied by an eruption of bright, piercing light at one end of the room. Perhaps a door has opened. Perhaps you’ve been punched. But your focus is fine. Everyone is cheering, but not for a fight .

You recognise your host as soon as he strides in. A tall, imposing presence, resplendent in trademark dark sunglasses of the L.A. school of rock variety. His bright blonde highlights flow down his long, shoulder-length, blacker-than-night hair. He is dressed in a loose fitting, open collared black, silk, two piece with flowing cuffs and flared bottoms, although the trousers do little to conceal that our host is seemingly very happy in his own skin, like a partially dressed romantic poet caught in flagrante delicto at his own party.

How would you introduce your host to the girl to your right who’s clearly on a first date with the ‘Someone In the City’ bloke who’s too busy nervously talking about himself?
Flamboyant? Sure he is. Unorthodox? Still refreshingly so, thank the Gods. An Innovator and pioneer? Undoubtedly, whose deft touch and influence has run, often unnoticed, like a volcanic seam through the past fifty plus years of rock ‘n roll.

Todd Rundgren’s band fires up behind him, as tight as our host’s black silk trousers and almost as proud. They open with ‘I Think You Know’ from his 1974 self-titled album, ‘Todd’, minus the lengthy space synth -way ahead of its time- intro of the original but still sounding fresh, despite the technical failure which sees him having to play air guitar to his own track. “A first” he tells us, laughing off this initial slip up with good nature. The sax helps too. From here they move to ‘Open My Eyes’ from the 1967, also self-titled debut of his first band, The Nazz, and it’s got all the firepower of the original, still burning brighter than a space stogie on a moonlit Venice Beach. The aptly titled ‘Hello It’s Me’ follows, the first tune our host ever penned and originally released in 1968 as a Nazz B-side before being re-released as a solo rendition in 1972 and reaching no. 5 on the Billboard Chart. The large projection screen which dwarfs the stage overhead swaps psychedelic imagery for random images of Americana while our host struts across the stage like a barefooted pastor.

‘We Got To Get You A Woman’, from 1970’s ‘Runt’ is as catchy and familiar as it is whenever and wherever it’s heard and has the ability to brighten a room’s mood almost as quickly as a free bar. The projection jumps to a Las Vegas chorus line of high-kicking ladies while our host demonstrates that his voice has lost little, if any, of its smoothness along the passage of time. The audience sings along en masse, beer cups held aloft. The room is smiling… and spilling.

The oft-covered ‘I saw The Light’ is like a warm, coastal drive at dusk and brings the room to an almost obscene crescendo of smiling and general joy that, if it could be reproduced in a Chinese laboratory, would be immediately banned by governments and would send the mainstream printed press screaming hysterically through to the sports pages. There’s a interesting, similar look on a number of other guests’ faces, those who have come along tonight as a supposed stranger to our host but have just realised that in fact they’ve known him for years, but just hadn’t been properly introduced.

We stay with 1972’s ‘Something/Anything’ for ‘It Really Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference’ and ‘Black Maria’ with the latter’s stand out, take no freakin’ prisoners, guitar work further charging the room. Just as this album was to serve in many ways as Rundgren’s temporary swan song to the lighter pop ballad style of his song writing and see him launch into braver, more experimental waters, so too this signals a change in direction and tempo of our party. The drugs are kicking in toour host’s song writing. Can you feel anything yet?

The guitar’s scream gets louder. The lights get harder. The pulse quickens. The huge projection switches to a montage of travel related imagery; old Pan Am ticket stubs, hotel receipts, Istanbul to Kabul to Tehran, a crazy man wielding swords. Hippies abound. Our host gesticulates with his long hands like a conductor, pointing at images of his past on the big screen as he takes us along for the ride. The screen erupts into a reminder of the extent of our host’s credits and collaborations as a producer, with images of some of the many familiar faces with whom he’s worked flashing before
our eyes. Bowie, Patti Smith, Freddie Mercury, Little Richard, Janis Joplin, Meatloaf, Rod Stewart, Iggy Pop, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, even Elvira. The list continues extensively and is still growing, including him guesting heavily, vocally on The Lemon Twigs 2018 rock opera concept album, ‘Go To School’, although the album and indeed a lot of The Lemon Twigs sound already owes a lot to the
church of Todd.

‘Sometimes I Don’t Know What To Feel’ and ‘Too Far Gone‘ move into ‘The Death of Rock and Roll and over to ‘Can We Still Be Friends’ before the Hall and Oats-smoothness of ‘Real Man’ from 1975 concept album , ‘Initiation’, is delivered complete with high-kicks and kung fu shapes, preceding ‘Love of the Common Man’ from 1976’s ‘Faithful’ and ‘Compassion’ from 1981’s ‘Healing’. Power pop forefather-of-a-track; ‘Couldn’t I Just Tell You’ takes us back to 1972 and again to ‘Something/Anything’ before ‘Initiation’s‘ ‘Fair Warning’ closes the first set on a soulful note that’s as smooth as a soft toffee that’s been warming in your flared jean pocket. The second set is introduced as being a more “informal” affair. It’s a green Skateboarder casual t-shirt for our host, with giant headphones emblazoned around the neck, and Hawaiian shirts and
straw hats for the boys in the band (Jesse Gress (guitar), Kasim Sulton (bass), Greg
Hawkes (keys), Prairie Prince (drums), and Bobby Strickland (sax, oboe, clarinet) with
this gear change feeling like you’ve just found the after party.

They open with ‘The Individualist’ from the 1994 album of the same name, which saw our host fuse early interactive software with the release at a time before most folk had a clue what ‘interactive’ meant. The Individualist is also the title of his recently released autobiography, which this tour is effectively promoting. A multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire way before Prince laid claim to the throne, our host can conjure up licks and tinges that are reminiscent of the late High Priest of Purple, at times exuding
immense soulfulness and it is fair supposition that the young Prince Rogers Nelson may have sought some inspiration in the boots of our host.

‘Black and White’ from ‘Faithful’ is delivered with the same Zapper-esq meets Rick James flavours of the original studio version, leading us to ‘I Don’t Want To Tie You Down’ from the 1974 psychedelic-drug influenced, and now cult ‘A Wizard, A True Star’. “The critics got fed up with me at this point” he beams. Then it’s back to 1975’s‘Initiation’ for ‘Eastern Intrigue’ with superb harmonies and a stand out graduate with honours from the 1970’s school of sound.
‘Determination’, from 1978’s ‘Hermit Of Mink Hollow’ brings us back to our host’s more poppy persuasion before ‘Kindness’ from 1991’s ‘2 nd Wind’ winds things down to a slower pace. ‘Buffalo Grass’ from 2000’s ‘One Long Year’, composed of tracks initially available only to his subscribers, propels us closer to the modern day .

‘Born to Synthesise’ is jazz -rich. People are dancing. Miss First Date is dancing with ‘Someone In The City’, though perhaps out of joy that he’s finally stopped talking at her.
Sublime guitar flows to bass to keys to sax while our host clutches the mic in both hands as if in prayer and cries to the angry red skies projected overhead. It is a very strong and practiced voice that you are hearing. Able to slip and slide from Burt Bacharach-style toe tapping schmaltz down the slopes of soulfulness and across into power pop and rock, psychedelia then down low as a crooner of the Capital Studios kind.

The pulse of the piano on ‘Fade Away’ returns us to ‘Hermit Of Mink Hollow’ and holds the room tightly while the saxophone harmonises with everything. Again, our host’s voice is radio-play slick and lifts the crowd into sunshine as the second set closes.
You don’t like a good party to end but if it’s going to end then let it end well.
It does. For the encore our host stands before his guests smiling, clearly enjoying his own party as much as everyone else in the room. He thanks you for coming and, with his band still as tight as the skin on a peach, sends you off on your way with the crowd rouser ‘Just One Victory’, which also closes the album ‘A Wizard, A True Star’. This is old material not simply reheated but served up to his guests as fresh as the day he cooked it.And your host can indeed cook well and in a range of tastes and flavours as diverse as his attending guests. But you’re still hungry. You head to the merch stall for the auricular equivalent of a doggy bag, hoping that there’s still vinyl on the menu, raising the last sip of your also now warm beer to your lips and smile. You knew it would taste like that.

Words Ritchie B Paterson June 5, 2019

Photo’s Jeff Moh

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