Todd Rundgren at the NYCB Theatre
NYCB Theatre at Westbury
August 11, 2013
Todd Rundgren has forged an enviable and lengthy career on the pop and rock landscape. The multi-instrumentalist's career with Nazz, Utopia and as a solo artist is as diverse as they come. Rundgren's influences can be very easily heard and identified when listening to his music. His songs feature elements of The Beatles, the The Beach Boys, Cream, Pink Floyd, The Who, Broadway musicals and classic American rock 'n' roll, soul, and R&B.
He has released, engineered and/or produced a diverse group of recordings that include his Something/Anything? (Bearsville, 1972), The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (Bearsville, 1982) and Utopia's Adventures in Utopia (Bearsville, 1980), as well as albums by other artists including Badfinger's Straight Up (Apple, 1971), the Band's Stage Fright (Capitol, 1970), Grand Funk Railroad's We're An American Band (Capitol, 1973) and Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell (Epic, 1977).
On a sleepy Long Island Sunday evening, Rundgren and his band touched down for a cozy show at Westbury's NYCB Theatre. The venue, which can be configured in the round with a rotating stage, was set up for a much more intimate half-round performance. As such, the stage remained sedentary while the band played to the mostly middle-aged crowd.
The show began when Rundgren bounded onto the stage, grabbed the microphone and, supported by a band that featured bassist Kasim Sulton, drummer Prairie Prince, multi-instrumentalist John Ferenzik and guitarist Jesse Gress, delivered fine versions of "Real Man" and "Love of the Common Man." After only two songs, the audience was already on its feet and dancing. Rundgren then grabbed a bright green guitar and led the band through a scorching version of "Buffalo Grass," from One Long Year (Artemis Records, 2000).
This appeared to really get the juices running for some of the bolder audience members. When many called for specific songs, Rundgren joked with the crowd, saying, "We don't take requests. It'll just piss us off. That leaves us free to play just about anything." With that the band eased into a cover of Robert Johnson's "Kind Hearted Woman."
Soon a stool and a small table were brought to the center of the stage. An usher then brought him a drink and some food. Rundgren announced, "Part of my contract, now that I'm an elderly gentleman is I get a snack. Ringo goes off and eats a potato. So I thought I'd give it a try." With that he sang "Lucky Guy." Clearly in a talkative mood, he continued to banter, offering up the following nugget, "This next record was a big hit for me...in Australia. Wish I'd have known; I'd have gotten a free trip to Australia." With that the group played "Can We Still Be Friends."
As the show moved along, the thrilled audience was delighted by the eclectic performance which included: "Espresso (All Jacked Up)," "Love Is the Answer" (the lone Utopia song, during which Rundgren got the audience to clap along), "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" and more banter (about the questionable chorus lyrics for "Flaw"), as well as some well-chosen covers ("I'm So Proud," "Ooo Baby, Baby" and "I Want You"). Rundgren, constantly moved while singing his way through his 45-year career, was in remarkable shape, at one point announcing that it was time to "dance and geek it up!"
The rest of the performance consisted of a mix of "Hawking" from Nearly Human CD (Warner Bros., 1989), the power pop anthem "I Saw The Light," "Drive," "Courage"a newer song, from Arena (HiFi Recordings, 2008)and "Couldn't I Just Tell You." With that Rundgren and the band left the stage only to return a few short minutes later.
The encores were short but sweet. "Hello It's Me" (which many consider to be Rundgren's signature song) and "A Dream Goes On Forever" from Todd (Beasrsville, 1974) provided the audience with an opportunity to relive its youth, and teleport to a simpler time forty years gone. As the vocal portion of the last song ended, Rundgren set down the mic, bowed to the crowd and exited the stage, leaving Ferenzik, Sulton, Gress and Prince to finish the number. Then the lights came up and the smiling audience filed out of the theatre.
[Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon].