Todd Rundgren Rocks Rams Head On Stage – by Matt Ellis

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Todd Rundgren growled at the sold-out Rams Head On Stage crowd last night:  “The theme of the night is befuddlement…”

Sticking tightly to that loose theme of confusion and unpredictability, Rundgren and his motley crew of musicians wove their way through an eclectic tapestry of classic and not-so-classic tunes, while Rundgren maintained his familiar, if somewhat off kilter, rapport with the audience. 

“People seem to like it when I talk,” he smirked in a deep, grumbling voice that can only be compared to that of comedian Lewis Black.  “Tonight, I don’t even know what I’m going to play next, so these guys are going to be really confused,” Rundgren added, motioning to his band mates, who, in a fitting reflection of the great variety of music to be played, all looked like they had been plucked from different decades of Rundgren’s musical history.    

The blonde-haired drummer wore aviator shades, an ascot, and a tight-fitting graphic t-shirt (I thought to myself, this is what Fred might look like after dissembling Scooby Doo’s Mystery, Inc. gang and joining a synth rock band in the 80s).  The bass guitar player resembled author Stephen King, and the guitarist had a “son of Slash” vibe to him, decked out in almost all black, long hair capped with a black bowler hat. 

The whole scene was bizarre, but highly entertaining, with Rundgren up front on stage contemplating aloud the current American racial landscape between songs, and thumbing through selections on his iPad.  It felt like a weird, reality TV show, where despite the viewers’ best efforts they are powerless to resist temptation as each crazy character slowly drags them into a warped, alternate universe.  Before long, I, and the entire crowd, were trapped in Rundgren’s otherworldly dimension, hanging on every word of his deliciously deviant stories, and every note of his symphonic songs.  After an animated anecdote about why *Tea Party members should be referred to as “Tea Baggers,” Rundgren launched into a funky cover of Daft Punk’s 2013 smash hit, “Get Lucky.”

“Now I get to tell my Daft Punk story,” Rundgren said after finishing the song, before beginning a tale about being sandwiched on Hollywood’s red carpet between current hip hop superstar Macklemore and Daft Punk’s world famous faux-robotic duo.  ‘The cameraman had to be looking at me, saying, “Who is that guy?”  It was like I was in a black hole of anonymity,” Rundgren joked.  “Like I was wearing some hobbit invisibility cloak.  Daft Punk in all their robot gear – they wouldn’t even acknowledge me.”

Then, Rundgren, half-sarcastically, half-grudgingly, slid over to the piano to play a few jazzier numbers.  “I guess I’ll play piano now,” he sighed.  ‘Not because I want to, but because I have to.  Or else they’ll be asking, “Why’d you put a freaking piano on the rider?!”’

Rundgren later asked friend and fellow piano player John Forensic to come up to the stage and play a few songs.  “I’ve been drinking a little…” said Forensic as he walked on stage.  “Well, you’ll fit right in!” said Rundgren, before testing his new pianist’s skill to match, note-for-note, the acapella opening lyrics of “Born to Synthesize.”  Rundgren’s voice hasn’t faded at all over the years, and it filled the concert space with an almost operatic crescendo at times during the show – too loud for some audience members, who covered their ears as blistering guitars wailed alongside Rundgren’s howl.

Still, the fans loved Rundgren’s dry humor and scattered, ephemeral set list.  Pony-tailed men danced in the aisles at the end of the night and every attendee was on their feet for the encore.  Be sure to check out Todd Rundgren’s new album, out now, called “State.” 

– Matt Ellis

*The opinions and views expressed at or through this website are the opinions of the artist and do not reflect the opinions or views of The Rams Head Group or the author.
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