High in the hills for his happy hour: Hermit’s Hollywood happening is out in its hallowed entirety.
On the brink of his 30th birthday, Todd Rundgren hit the apex of a creative curve the singer had been shaping for a decade as a solo artist, band leader and producer, so 1978 saw all the stops pulled out to turn what seemed like a regular tour into a special experience. Well, there were two stops set – on either coast of the U.S.: at NYC’s “The Bottom Line” and “The Roxy” in L.A. – where Rundgren performed a series of shows which would make parts of his “Back To The Bars” album yet lose some of their momentum and immediacy to the “best of” presentation. All of it is captured here, on the first two discs of a neat box that contain the May 23rd concert – used for a radio simulcast, the most extravagant date of Todd’s Californian residence thanks to the appearances of not only UTOPIA members but also star guests – and a third CD, with assorted numbers from other “Roxy” nights. Not as polished as the contemporary release, this recordings preserve the veteran in his finest form.
There’s existence in spades. Coming alive as a character of a Rundgren number, Wolfman Jack introduces Todd to set the tone of the show which opens with “Real Man” where the singer’s falsetto-stricken, slightly wavering voice would reveal his vulnerability if it wasn’t followed by “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” where soulful vocals sound so self-assured, and then the boisterous “Love Of The Common Man” and the raucous “Love In Action” that, richly textured by the whole ensemble, are bound to have the listener on their feet. The same energy will ooze out of “Hang On Sloopy” – one of the finale cuts, with Rick Derringer who came on-stage for a traditional R&B medley culminating in the luxurious “I Saw The Light” – and “Sometimes I Don’t Know What To Feel” with Daryl Hall and John Oates reinforcing its bluesy front as they do on “She’s Gone” later on, while deceptively superficial “Don’t You Ever Learn?” expands to a prog-rock piece.
Some pieces turn into vaudeville in not so justifiable fashion, yet whereas “Eastern Intrigue” and “You Cried Wolf” are trading their tuneful appeal for hilariously animalistic crowd-pleasing, “The Range War” – adorned with Spencer Davis’ harmonica – harnesses barroom melancholy in a very natural way, and the delicious operetta of “Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song” (ostensibly one of only few appearances of the ditty in Todd’s live repertoire) becomes a pinnacle of Rundgren’s theatrical slant. It’s rarities such as this, the dramatic, polyphony-filled “Bread” or velveteen “Lady Face” rather than sweet standards like “A Dream Goes On Forever” and “Can We Still Be Friends” that stand out to render “All Sides” irresistible. Factor in a filigree, infectious funk of “Initiation” and sleek, if perfunctory, romp through “Determination” with a tremendous bass line courtesy of John Siegler, or an exhilarating delivery of “Love Is The Answer” and a life-affirming, triumphant, tribal “Just One Victory” as well as “Hello It’s Me” where Stevie Nicks’ voice joins in for heightened sensuality – albeit “The Verb ‘To Love'” doesn’t need such backing to reflect Todd’s emotional depth – and here’s an essential Rundgren artifact.
A pity it wasn’t a TV-related simulcast, so there’s no video to accompany this release.