CD Reissues Todd Rundgren and Utopia – Live At The Electric Ballroom, Milwaukee, 23rd October 1978 & Todd Rundgren and Utopia – Live At The Old Waldorf

Published on 17th February 2016

Todd Rundgren & Utopia – Live At The Electric Ballroom, Milwaukee, 23rd October 1978 / Live At The Old Waldorf


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The one and only time I saw Todd Rundgren live was on the 4th August 1979 supporting Led Zeppelin at what would turn out to be the mighty Zep’s penultimate gig on home soil. Back then I knew nothing about Rundgren’s music, and what I heard in that Hertfordshire back garden left little impression on me. It was only many years later that I started investigating the highly varied and stylistically shifting back catalogue of the American musical polymath, but even now, the years beyond 1974’s Todd remain largely unexplored, with the exception of the first two Utopia albums.

Given all that you may wonder why I am persisting with reviewing these two sprawling live collections from August and October 1978, some of which was no doubt floating into one of my ears and straight out the other that balmy August day back in 1979. You would be right to wonder as so am I, for I just don’t have a handle on any of this, which I suppose is as good a way as any to write a review!

Both these sets contain tracks from the third Utopia album, Oops! Wrong Planet, which given their previous two LPs was a somewhat disappointing affair chock full of slick radio-friendly pop, the antithesis of the technically stunning prog rock of previous waxings. Then again, Rundgren was – and still is – a restless soul, and in a similar manner to Neil Young seems to delight in confounding his fans’ expectations. I do remember I once had a copy of Hermit Of Mink Hollow that annoyingly I cannot now locate, as it is an album that would have come in handy right now, as some of its tracks also feature here.

Gone is the experimentation of A Wizard, A True Star and Todd, and the self-titled Todd Rundgren & Utopia album and its equally brazen follow-up Ra, unfortunately. In its place are big ballads like It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference, and straining pop hysteria as displayed on the likes of Trapped, which seems to invent Prince wholesale a good few years before the diminutive sex dwarf started sprawling all over our TVs. Why does Todd sometimes sing like a strangled cat on some of these songs, one wonders? Anyway, features some nifty synth work from Roger Powell, who is the virtuoso star of this band, no question. As we know, Todd is no slouch either and Abandon City contains one of Todd’s effortless guitar blasts that are scattered intermittently over these four discs like fairy dust.

The Seven Rays, a ten-minute live-only cosmic wigout is a high point, and contains more than a dash of Bowie about it, with added over-emoting from Todd. You Cried Wolf from the Electric Ballroom set has Todd sounding especially frantic, the energy of the occasion, whether or not aided by Columbian exports, making his voice sound bug-eyed, if you follow my drift! Eastern Intrigue/Initiation is by far the most interesting track, harking back to 1975’s Initiation album, which by the sound of it, I should buy! It shares a complexity level and a dexterous arrangement with Zappa as it wends its incomprehensible way like a big production number from an avant garde musical.

All of this music exudes class, but after a fair few listens it fails to make any lasting connection with this scribbler, more’s the pity. The music herein is very much of its time, and very American, so getting into this is not easy for me, although I definitely can appreciate the quality musicianship on display, and Rundgren’s way with an arrangement at least holds my interest. I guess Back To The Bars, the original and official live album from the time, has better sound, as both these sets were recorded for FM radio broadcasts, and often Todd’s voice is too high in the mix, but these are two sets for the fans, who I’m sure will find plenty to enjoy here.

TRACK LISTING
Todd Rundgren and Utopia – Live At The Electric Ballroom Milwaukee, 23rd October 1978
CD1

01. Real Man
02. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference
03. Love Of The Common Man
04. Trapped
05. Abandon City
06. The Verb “To Love”
07. The Seven Rays
08. Can We Still Be Friends
09. The Death Of Rock’N’Roll

Total time – 46:45

CD2
01. You Cried Wolf
02. Gangrene
03. A Dream Goes On Forever
04. Black Maria
05. Eastern Intrigue/Initiation
06. Couldn’t I Just Tell You
07. Hello, It’s Me
08. Just One Victory

Total time – 39:59

TRACK LISTING
Todd Rundgren and Utopia – Live At The Old Waldorf
CD1

01. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference
02. Love Of The Common Man
03. Trapped
04. Abandon City
05. The Last Ride
06. The Seven Rays
07. Can We Still Be Friends
08. Back On The Street

Total time – 40:24

CD2
01. You Cried Wolf
02. Gangrene
03. A Dream Goes On Forever
04. Black And White
05. Eastern Intrigue/Initiation
06. Couldn’t I Just Tell You
07. Hello, It’s Me
08. Just One Victory

Total time – 40:54

MUSICIANS (both albums)
Todd Rundgren – Vocals, Guitar
Roger Powell – Vocals, Keyboards
Kasim Sulton – Vocals, Bass
John “Willie” Wilcox – Vocals, Drums

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: Electric Ballroom ECLEC 22446 / Old Waldorf ECLEC 22521
Year Of Release: 2014/2015

LINKS
Todd Rundgren – Website | Facebook
Cherry Red Records – Electric Ballroom | Old Waldorf

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