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Non-Prog Concert Reviews

Todd Rundgren

Live in Madison, WI, October, 2008

Review by Josh Turner

Without an opener, there was just enough time for a bathroom break before the windup. If you weren’t in your seats by 7:45 PM, you would have been missing the preliminary inning. For those who were barely tardy, the initial section containing “Love in Action” was not a part to skip. A slightly belated entrance meant your relationship with Rundgren started on the rocks but in the end it didn’t matter. Whenever the actual time of arrival, I’m sure it would have been on a high note, because every aspect of Rundgren’s show was phenomenal. Also, he got us home and under the sheets before our usual bedtime as there was a musical cease fire around a quarter to ten.

As to the arena rock that smothered this diminutive indoor theater, the sound was crisp and clear but rather loud.

No matter the parameters, he was a real professional in how he conducted himself. He had tact despite the fact he wasn’t always politically correct. Not to mention, he demonstrated proficiency in terms of etiquette and timing even if the site’s soundproofing didn’t support the band’s noisy booms. With at least three guitars in play at any given time, this dirge instrument dominated their colossal wall of sound. Fortunately, these artificial banshees were one of the ensemble’s real strengths. The keyboardist got into the action too; pinch hitting as a fourth guitarist and effusively exercising each swinging instrument with skill. Like GE, the apparel of this electrical quartet brought their music to life.

Spectators were enthusiastic and onboard with the scheduled programming. What was odd is that Rundgren drew an age range that was older than one might expect. That aside, there was plenty of frisky shenanigans among insatiable partakers. Still, the clichéd dance techniques greatly aged them.

Not a lot of people showed up for this event. To be honest, the niche city stationed between two lakes frequently brings in big names. One might ascertain that a place with countless quality offerings often implores people to pass on significant performers. Not too far away at a venue called the “Overture Center,” David Sedaris was doing his thing at the same time. That might be more up the alley of liberal local yokels on a school night. Had Rundgren come on a different date, Madisonians may have been polarized to his stage instead.

While he taunted fans with the possibility of Pantera covers, he did get off the expressway at one point. Amidst the aloofness of his off-roading, he played us the popular offspring of George Coleman’s one act farce. (Hint: I’m eluding to a certain genre.) To the trained ear, there was a bluesy feel to the mix and Rundgren wholeheartedly agreed with the comparison. He said if you follow the line from arena rock to the sixties, you would come upon a bluesman named Robert Johnson. Then again, Rundgren impenitently committed perjury in jest by saying that he invented blues whereas RJ mainly stole the credit for it.

Incidentally, you cannot judge this book by its cover. Even in this modern age of Emo, Rundgren was his own fashion statement. With multi-hued hair and amber glasses, he seemed to be more of a glam man or a punkster than a rock star. Despite his voguish looks, his music told a different story.

As to the actual songs, the bite of “Black Maria” was more potent than a mamba. This pretentious viper was melodic and swift. Elsewhere, he implemented many false endings and big finishes. You’d think he were priming us for encores or epics, yet his pithy ditties were aurally tantric and rhythmically titanic.

In regards to his gratuitous discourse between songs, he was constantly making enigmatic statements. Without cause, he warned attendees that the affair would turn into a seminar on anger management. Then he suggested that Luke use the force and be wary of the dark side. Speaking of the moon’s more portentous hemisphere, many of Rundgren’s pieces sounded a lot like Pink Floyd’s high-profile concept album by the way.

In series, we received a couple of popular hits: “Lunatic Fringe” and “I Saw the Light.” If you didn’t recognize Rundgren’s name until now, there is a good chance you’ve heard this dastardly duo on the radio. Either it’s a strange coincidence or I’m stating the obvious but the former is a cover of the song by Red Rider whereas the latter is not entirely the classic with the same name by Hank Williams.

Keeping with the odd dialogue, he said something to the effect of matriculation to educational establishments regardless of how bad their offerings of sports. At least to those who followed his verbose avowals, this burned a handful of those in the booster club due to recent letdowns by resident athletic departments on a multitude of levels. If intended, it was in poor taste but chances are it was a genuine mistake.

Also applicable to current times, he provided an analogy that the world is a haunted house these days. Then he gave a uplifting dissertation on the fall. All this was inline with the ongoing monster bashes and trick or treating leading up to Halloween and a season that precluded the much anticipated presidential debates.

To further feed the fodder, he said we would get what we paid for: A phone recorded bootleg version of the new album. Rather than a scratchy knockoff, the rendering of his new songs were presented with impressive resolution. On top of that, he enlightened us on the fact that the new album had a message that flies in the face of the avarice, hypocrisy, stupidity, and lies inappropriately appropriated from our current administration. He then referred to the indigenous populace that came to see his show as, “The rock of Madtown.”

At this point, we were given direction to raise our fists and yell the title of his tracks. The first to receive this treatment would be “Strike.” He joked that arena rock was known for not just having the title of the song in the lyrics, but to hammer out those salient words. He said he would not be doing his job if the title and the operative verse weren’t blatantly apparent. Sure as heck, when the lexicon in question arrived, light bulbs illuminated over many heads.

Later on, he manipulated the universal convention and had the crowd use their finger and two syllables. Hence, the featured word (“Higher”) was not the title of the song (“Mountaintop”). Shame on him for deviating from the rulebook. In spite of everything previously taught, he still did his coaching job well as the instructions were relatively intrinsic. You could say that the densest participant immediately got the gist. In the vein of Bon Jovi, these songs could certainly be played over the loudspeakers at a major league game.

When it came to tunes that were newly cooked, they were juicy and plump. Right from the grill, they sizzled. Midstream, they were easily reheated. On the outro, they showed leftover appeal before coming to a halt. It was as if his chords contained trace amounts of Vanilla Crisp PowerBars or better yet; were corked.

Tapping into my cache of flashbacks, one instantly floats to the surface. From readily accessible memory cells, I recall a reverberating dub repeatedly played from DAT while synthetically bass-laden lines delivered a mesmerizing beat. This charming parcel was postmarked as “Today,” and it was the last in a batch of very special deliveries.

In any case, I was Todd Rundgren illiterate before his tour came to my locality. Sure, I’ve listened to his albums in the past. I cannot say they made the same impression on me as they had on plenteous steadfast fans. All that changed for me once he took to the turf of this bantamweight stadium and plugged himself in.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 6 at
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