Album review: JOE JACKSON & TODD RUNDGREN feat. ETHEL – State Theater, New Jersey 2005 (CD/DVD)

JOE JACKSON & TODD RUNDGREN feat. ETHEL - State Theater, New Jersey 2005

Purple Pyramind [Release date 18.06.21]

Back in 2005 the pairing of Joe Jackson and Todd Rundgren may have seemed rather incongruous.  I remember thinking at the time that Rundgren had just released an excellent solo album ‘Liars’ and it would have been nice to hear more of that, whilst Jackson would simply dilute and detract from the work of his cohort.  Given also that at this point Rundgren had just one recent UK tour behind him after an absence of many years.

There was an additional twist.  The show also featured the New York-based string quartet Ethel although they only added communal strings during the encore.

The unlikely liaison came about in August 2004 following Joe Jackson’s first so-called ‘Joe’s Pub In The Park’ series (Not the Joe’s pub but promoted via the venue’s director and a friend of the string quartet) and specifically a gig in New York’s Central Park when Ethel joined the two main protagonists.

It was evident that – at the Liverpool concert I witnessed in June 2005 – the local audience were there for Todd and to that extent Jackson, admittedly with a clutch of fine songs (including ‘Steppin’ Out’ , ‘Citizen Sane’ and ‘It’s Different For Girls’), was always going to be the support act.

Ethel opened the show with a surprisingly gutsy and frenetic delivery which may have been a bit too high-brow for those with an ear for late-seventies pop and sometimes quirky classic rock.

The emphasis in Rundgren’s set was on his powerful and very soulful vocal delivery as much as his wonderful acoustic-electric guitar playing.

If that Liverpool crowd were baying for Todd these aficionados would always dispute the merits of his set list, and a catalogue very difficult to condense into an hour long set.

Amongst the surprises were ‘The Wheel’, ‘Hawking’ (as part of a piano interlude) and a Beatles tribute ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ wholly appropriate given the venue.  The latter two (and ‘Stood Up’) aren’t included in this collection (which has cherry picked a setlist that also included ‘I Saw The Light’, ‘Beloved Infidel’ and ‘Who’s Sorry Now’) but it does show how they mixed things up each night.

Highlights included one of the ‘Liars’ standouts, a paired down ‘Afterlife’, and a superb ‘Pretending To Care’.  Both are great demonstrations of Rundgren’s way with a melody.

After the respective sets from the two main artists, all performers came together for the encore which included’While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ with Ethel taking the lead in terms of solos – and orchestration colouring Rundgren’s electric guitar chords – and vocals shared with Jackson.

We’d have to wait a few more years for the return of Rundgren with electric guitar firmly strapped on his shoulder following the release  of another fine solo album ‘Arena’.  And then, in 2011, he toured the UK with essentially the “greatest hits” set we’d all been waiting for.

But back in 2005 a continuing revival in Rundgren’s visibility – at least in the UK – was welcomed at this gig and the pairing was a great success.  And all nicely recalled on this excellent 2-CD/DVD package.  ****

Review by David Randall

David Randall interviewed Todd Rundgren in March 2005 before the UK tour with Joe Jackson.  In this excerpt Todd chats about the tour and his approach to live shows. (8:17)

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