Purple Pyramid 2021
A slice of troubadour-rock history from two sides of the Pond coming together on one spellbinding evening.
“Rock ‘n’ roll!” cries someone from the hall after the lights are out, apparently anticipating a sensory assault from the artists who rose to fame in the ’70s and still remain revered and, what’s important, relevant – but the expected attack will never really come on. Neither Todd Rundgren nor Joe Jackson pack an aural punch on this live document from 2005, albeit it’s all about the package here; it’s a unique chance to experience the spectacle as is – well, was – from a warm-up act to all-hands-on-deck encores, and the experience per se is also unique, focused more on solo presentation – on music rather than arrangements.
A chamber atmosphere descends upon the audience from the start, once ETHEL, an unorthodox string quartet that open this evening, stage an expressionistic array of contemporary classical pieces which run the gamut from raga to avant-garde and from the fervent folk dance of “Nepomuk’s Dances: Memory” to the ruminative “Sweet Hardwood” whose often stormy outbursts, with pizzicatos and glissandos abound, only stress the depth of the material this ensemble engage their listener in.
Such a beginning creates a perfect entrance for Joe Jackson’s performance, the English artist’s songs stripped bare to suit his equally stark grand piano accompaniment yet the veteran’s hits – the ever-exciting “Steppin’ Out” that’s delivered second in the set and its last number “Is She Really Going Out With Him” among these translucent and falsetto-flecked tracks – not losing an iota of their erstwhile electric charge. Occasionally looking at the lyrics in order not to blur any little detail which is exposed in an unplugged rendition, Joe may sound vulnerable but, with his fingers flitting over the ivories and the bliss on his face reflecting new instrumental forms, there’s riveting elegance in the elegiac “Hometown” and in the vaudevillian cover of The Fabs’ “Girl” whereas the then-fresh “Awkward Age” feels gracefully cheery – followed by the fervent “Take It Like A Man” whose nervousness is full of soul. The new-wave icon will logically snap into a singer-songwriter mode for “Obvious Song” and into a troubadour balladry for “Love At First Light” – the impassioned peak of Jackson’s part of the concert – before allowing “Citizen Sane” to channel his anguish and anger.
Once the crowd is properly and positively prepared for Rundgren’s portion of the show, it’s easy for him to step out in the spotlight, garbed in garish garment and sporting new shoes, with the instantly intense “Love Of The Common Man” and, strumming acoustic guitar, carry on pulling the public’s heartstrings via the impossibly tender “I Don’t Want To Tie You Down” until the deep cuts “Lysistrata” and “Tiny Demons” – the former a vigorous farewell, the latter a tremulous serenade – are evoked to thrill the metaphor-adoring aficionados. Over to the piano for “Compassion” to bring the piece’s message to life, Todd doesn’t linger on the moment and moves to the boisterous “Free, Male And 21” and then back to intimacy, giving the pleasure of “Hello, It’s Me” to the cheering watchers and heating the ether even more by “Bang The Drum All Day” that’s played, Hawaiian-style, on ukulele to a great effect. It should become greater than that thanks to the contrast the raw riff of “Black And White” is bound to provide, coming off Rundgren’s overdriven axe, and to the delicacy of “Afterlife” which takes Todd’s philosophy to the surface.
Returning to the fore in the company of ETHEL, Jackson lifts “The Other Me” off the ground and Rundgren sees “Pretending To Care” drenched in orchestral grandeur, this solemnity staying on to let all the musicians, with Todd and Joe sharing vocals, propel the sad-to-celebratory “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Black Maria” to ecstatic climax. It was a very unusual evening, and to have it preserved for posterity and available now is just great.