Saturday, December 19, 2015

Todd Rundgren at the Gramercy Theatre

Todd Rundgren started playing in bands almost 50 years ago in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He first joined a blues rock band called Woody's Struck Stop in 1966 and then formed his own garage-rock band, the Nazz, in 1967. The Nazz had some near hits, but Rundgren left that band in 1969 and relocated to New York, where he formed Runt in 1970. Rundgren became a solo artist in 1972 and scored with a remake of the Nazz's "Hello It's Me" and "I Saw the Light." Rundgren's "Bang the Drum All Day" was a minor chart hit in 1983, but became more prominent in subsequent years and is now considered one of Rundgren's most popular songs. From 1974 to 1985, he led the progressive rock band Utopia, and later played in Ringo Starr's All-Starrs and in the short-lived New Cars. Since the mid-1990s, Rundgren has been based in Kauai, Hawaii. He released his 25th solo album, Global, on April 7, 2015 and an experimental dance electronica collaboration, Runddans, on May 3, 2015.

"An Evening With Todd Rundgren" at the Gramercy Theatre tonight was a retrospective concert of Rundgren's more mainstream work. In recent years, Rundgren has recorded or performed backed by disc jockeys, orchestras and computers. This time, he assembled a band of former compatriots, keyboardist John Ferenzik, bassist Kasim Sulton, guitarist Jesse Gress and drummer Prairie Prince, and contrasting some of his big productions of decades ago, this band played on a no-frills stage. Rundgren and band opened the show with "I Saw the Light" and moved through 24 songs, including two Nazz songs and five Utopia songs, and performed them more or less in original form. The earlier part of the two-hour concert majored in his more familiar 1970s-era catalogue, while the later part of the set explored the deeper cuts of some of his albums. The set balanced Philly-inspired blue-eyed soul , melodic power pop, and extended instrumental rock jams. The band was in full-on rocker mode for much of the set, but Rundgren made room for his rhythm and blues-styled ballads, including covers of the Impressions' "I'm So Proud," Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Ooh Baby Baby," and Marvin Gaye's "I Want You." Rundgren's vocals were rough at the beginning of the set, but smoothed out after a few songs. Overall, this was the set that Todd Rundgren fans had been craving for decades.

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