Album review: TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA – Live At The Chicago Theatre (CD/DVD/Bluray)

 TODD RUNDGREN'S UTOPIA - Live At The Chicago Theatre (CD/DVD/Bluray)

Purple Pyramid/Cleopatra [Release date 26.04.19] CD/DVD/Bluray

Utopia was Todd Rundgren’s progressive/pop fusion vehicle and can sometimes get overlooked or misunderstood in his varied back catalogue. The band had split by 1986 but there was a brief reunion nearly 10 years later and the current iteration went out on the road in spring 2018. Todd is joined by longtime collaborator Kasim Sulton, drummer Willie Wilcox (1975-1992) and Gil Assayas, a new whizz on keyboards.

To open proceedings with the 14 minute ‘Utopia Theme’ is daring perhaps but really sets the tone. This is a prog tour de force with Rundgren’s soaring guitar figures a highlight, counter-balanced by Assayas’ swooping keys.

To those who maybe found Utopia’s fusion flavours a little unpalatable or pretentious, this live album should dispel any apprehension. It’s straight ahead rock for the most part and must have been great live. Fortunately this comprehensive deluxe package includes both a DVD/Bluray so there’s no excuse not to have a quiet, unadulterated, wig-out when the coast is clear.

This is a great companion package to another live release via Purple Pyramid, recorded in December 2015 – An Evening With Todd Rundgren – although that lacks the additional bluray disc.

Whilst there is no doubting Utopia’s musical prowess – here fully demonstrated – they also delivered some memorable, shorter songs.

Not least ‘Love Is The Answer’ – covered by England Dan & John Ford Coley for the hit single – as well as by Todd in solo mode. This is one of the greatest songs ever written, no question, and as relevant today as it was when it first appeared on ‘Oops! Wrong Planet’ in 1977.  And ‘Love In Action’, ‘One World’ and ‘Just One Victory’ also sound better in their original context.

Sulton takes lead vocals on several songs of which his own composition ‘I Will Wait’ is a standout. It reminds us of the Philly soul connection that permeates the long-standing Rundgren/Sulton axis.

Todd Rundgren’s work – and his live gigs in general – can be eclectic. This Chicago gig is totally focused and stays on message throughout. ‘Just One Victory’ of many in Rundgren’s long and still productive career. *****

Review by David Randall

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