Cleopatra Records, USA [Release date 25.09.20]
Eleven Years ago this month, Todd Rundgren and his band, suitably garbed in white “coat’n'tails” played “A Wizard, A True Star” in its entirety, at the Akron Ohio Civic Theatre, one of the last great twenties’ movie palaces. In fact, the perfect setting.
The original album’s drug induced stream of songwriting imagination has been well dcoumented. So, how do you present that live?
Rundgren, of course, has the answer: he comes on stage in his favourite, all white astronaut suit. Thereafter pausing the original recording’s short, sharp, interstellar flights of fancy only for between track costume changes.
Rundgren is right, of course, the colourful, sometimes keyless, sometimes sweet and often expansive songs that crowd into “A Wizard, A True Star”, translate readily into Musical Theatre. Including a short excerpt of ‘Never Never Land’ from “Peter Pan” is something of a clue.
The audience, at first unsure, quickly tune in and get on board with the bursts of slightly weird, dissonant sparks of music that populate the album’s/ gig’s “first half”, accepting that they are well nigh impossible to present in a totally satisfactory visual manner. That changes dramatically when the big hitters from the album’s “second half” move up front and centre.
Tellingly, the blue eyed soul of ‘Sometimes I Don’t Know’ and ‘Does Anybody Love You’ get a rapturous welcome. Rundgren is (kind of) grounded now (they’re thinking) and this is the stuff we love. Also the great pop tunesmithery of ‘Hungry For Love’ and the balladic beauty of ‘I Don’t Want To Tie You Down’. The stuff that survives fashion and fancy. No surprise then that the 13 minute rock’n'soul medley, including songs written by Curtis Mayfield and Smokey Robinson, goes down a storm. Songs with a proven track record, classics of their kind.
Finishing the gig with a reprise of the immense ‘International Feel’ before going into the magnificent album closer, ‘Just One Victory’ is a masterstroke. Going out on a high, indeed.
Kudos to the label, Cleopatra Records, USA for putting this CD/DVD package together. The original album is considered to be among Rundgren’s best albums, if not the best. It has the scope and scale to come alive on stage. This gig is testament to that belief. *****
Review by Brian McGowan
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