Todd Rundgren’s Unpredictable Evening

Todd Rundgren’s show at Walker Theatre was billed as an “Unpredictable Evening”. To everyone’s joy it lived up to that billing a more.

I’ve listened to Rundgren’s music since I was a kid and his different incarnations. As an adult I’ve gotten to see him live a few times including with Utopia as well as a side note I also have seen his son Rex play minor league baseball.

That all being said, I’m familiar with what to expect at most of his shows within reason. This show was unlike any I’ve seen and I’m glad I was there.

Rundgren was joined on stage with an all-star band (unlike Ringo Starr’s) that included Greg Hawkes on keyboard (The Cars), Prairie Prince on drums (The Tubes), Kasim Sultan on bass (Utopia, Meatloaf and a ton of others) and Jesse Gress on guitar. Rundgren seated himself on a stool behind the mic and started a night of unpredictability with “Friday”. Yes, that godawful viral song by Rebecca Black a few years ago. You remember – the video went viral when an article on Yahoo! Wrote is was the absolute song and music video ever. After that – it got well over 30 million hits making the guys who made the video a few million and gave Black her 15 minutes of fame(?) that included her even being in a video with Katy Perry and her song, “Last Friday Night”.

That set the tone for the evening. It was a relaxed fun event that kept everyone engaged and smiling and in some cases singing along. No genre, style or tempo was ignored on the evening. Everything from “I Won’t Grow Up” from Peter Pan to Tony Bennett’s “Are You Having Fun” plus classic rock classics like the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace” and Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints” were on the bill as well.

The show was very reminiscent of the late Pat DiNizio’s (The Smithereens) Living Room tour where anyone could book him to come play literally in their living room. I got to take part in that many years ago and remains one of my fondest memories where he sat around (or stood) and played Smithereens fans favorite songs and songs he liked or even taking requests. Rundgren’s show had that loose fun feeling although he told everyone he would no play any requests. The crowd responded by shouting, “Freebird” to the laughter of everyone in attendance including the band. The living room feel also was reminiscent of the acoustic set Stone Temple Pilots did during the “Purple” tour in 1994 when the band literally sat on a couch and played a number of their songs acoustically. Granted, Rundgren’s band was electric and he was the only one seated (with the exception of Prairie Prince), it was one of the more intimate shows played in a venue that size or even smaller taken into account Rundgren and his band’s pedigree.

Rundgren did play a handful of his solo as well as a Utopia song. He obliged the crowd by playing favorites “I Saw The Light” and “Hello It’s Me” as well as “Lysistra” off of Utopia’s Right To Swing.

With Greg Hawkes on keyboards it was only appropriate to play The Cars’ “Let The Good Times Roll” which reflected not only the mood of the evening but a celebration of sorts to the recent induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame for the band. The band jumped genres continually covering The Call’s “The Walls Came Down” to Melanie’s “Brand New Key” to Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”.

Rundgren appeared in good cheer all night bantering with the crowd talking at times about the different songs they were playing and only talked politics briefly. His only statement was telling the crowd it was important for them to go out and vote. He left it there with no partisanship on his part. The simple statement drew applause from the crowd. As did wide and varied selection of songs he played including Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” doing a better job in my opinion than the recently released Toto cover (whose rendition was in honor of Weezer’s covering of “Africa” and Rosanna”).

The crowd was treated to a set that lasted almost two hours that included a two song encore that included a really blistering cover of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. Credit to Rundgren for living up to the billing of an “unpredictable evening”. It was all that and more and worth the time and money.

– Dave Weinthal