The singer nor the group: Todd bends his band as a vehicle for his personal route.
1978 was the year when Todd Rundgren resumed his solo career that had been briefly put on hold in order to realize the artist’s collective dream. That was also the year Todd embarked on the “Back To The Bars” tour which saw him play material from the previous Rundgren albums, not the UTOPIA ones, although the quartet appeared as a part of his star-spangled performances. Yet by October, when the trek reached Milwaukee, the singer’s coterie once again slimmed down to bassist Kasim Sulton, keyboard player Roger Powell and drummer Willie Wilcox, whose on-stage telepathy elevated their frontman’s songs – old and new.
The ensemble’s repertoire, as this 2CD set – drastically different from “Back To The Bars” LP – documents, included both crowd favorites and not so popular selections that create the nice contrast between the rough romanticism of “Can We Still Be Friends” from the then-recent “Hermit Of Mink Hollow” or “A Dream Goes On Forever,” stripped to the voice and piano, and the more imaginative offerings from UTOPIA’s latest, “Oops! Wrong Planet,” such as “Abandon City” where Powell lets rips on the stereo-testing synthesizers, and “Trapped” where Rundgren unleashes a wild guitar solo and engages in a call-and-response with his compadres.
Here, Sulton’s bass gives additional gravity to another new song, “You Cried Wolf” and “Love Of The Common Man,” while the whole band’s dynamic is best realized on the extra-punchy wigout “The Seven Rays” and the jazzy soul of “The Verb ‘To Love’,” and whereas the unhinged rendition of “The Death of Rock and Roll” and tight “Black Maria” hit harder than the light, if rough, pop of opener “Real Man,” the lengthy “Eastern Intrigue/Initiation” sounds like a vanity exercise rather than the display of the players’ dexterity. They also lose all the vibrancy of “Hello, It’s Me” only to compensate for it with exquisite vocal harmonies in “Just One Victory.” And it is a victorious, if not without its warts, performance catching a fine band in their element.