A True Star, a Wizard.

Here I am, back In Presteigne after a quick visit to that London with my boyfs to see Todd Rundgren perform his 1973 masterpiece album ‘A Wizard, A True Star,’ which is, at least arguably, simultaneously psychedelia’s high water mark, and one of the greatest blue eyed soul albums of the 70’s. Todd hasn’t really had to work for a living since producing ‘Bat Out of Hell’ for points, and his recorded output since 1977 has been subsequently sporadic and patchy, to put it mildly. But his two great albums of the early 70’s, ‘Wizard’ and its astonishing predecessor,‘ Something/Anything’ are up there with the very best.

1973 was something of an annus mirabilis for Todd, since he also produced The New York Dolls debut album. Todd nuts like myself can get upset by the fact that if he’s known for anything, it’s for not being Liv Tyler’s dad. I’m still puzzled, faded old punk that I am, that people could still regard ‘Dark Side‘ as the album of 1973, when ‘A Wizard, A True Star’ is infinitely superior. This puzzlement was not abated by the fact that there were a few empty seats in the Hammersmith Apollo, or that my three boyfs and I, all of us over fifty, were quite clearly in the lower percentile of the audience demographic.  Also, it must be faced, 80% of the audience were blokes, though I find that mystifying too, since Todd is nothing if not an old romantic. As my boyf Yammerman said to me in the bar, ‘it’s hard to pick out your friends when everyone has grey hair.’

But boy, did it start unpromisingly. It was announced that at 8pm, we would hear Todd Rundgrens Johnson, followed at 9 by ‘A Wizard…’ Todd Rundgren’s Johnson turned out to be Todd, with another guitarist, a bass player, and a drummer playing Robert Johnson songs in front of a big black curtain. If you’d heard them in the pub, you’d think they were a very good pub rock blues band, but you wouldn’t want to go and see a pub rock blues band in the first place. I began to relax, however, during the third number, where Todd couldn’t find the key, and said ‘You don’t practise the blues, man.’ I thought, ‘the old bastard, he’s got some mad hugely polished to slickness  show lined up behind that curtain; and so it proved.

After a half time spent queueing for the loo (I would imagine a high percentage of the crowd had prostate problems), we settled down for the main event. The great Danny Baker was sitting a few rows in front of us, and Macca was rumoured to be in too, whether or not it was because he loved Todd’s music, or simply that he appreciated heroic Todd’s trashing of Lennon in the seventies, it’s hard to say.

The album opens with a noise a little like the washing machine on the Tardis. As this noise filled the theatre, the black curtain raised, and there was a six piece band on risers dressed in white tuxes, a big light show, a video screen, and Todd dressed as a NASA astronaut singing ‘International Feel.’ And from there on, it was a camp, funny, theatrically brilliantly executed celebration of the Greatest Concept Album ever. There, I’ve said it.

I lost count of the number of the costume changes that Todd nipped off to do between the short songs, leaving the superb band (several of them old Utopia hands) to do the instrumental bits; ten or so, I guess. My favourite was the orange gear he wore for the soul medley. Todd is a Philly boy, and in 1973 he made this white kid want to be a soul singer; you can hear why Hall and Oates chose him to produce their second album. Fantastic stuff.

The show ‘finished’ before he’d done ‘Just One Victory’, which is a hell of a number to have tucked away for your encore under any circumstances, but here, of course, it was astounding.  The crowd bayed for more, but how do you follow ‘Just One Victory’? Besides, it’s the last track on the album, and to do another song would have ruined the thing. So, into the bitterly cold that London air, exhilarated by probably the best Rock and Roll show I’ve ever seen. He’s only doing one other European performance, and that’s tonight, in Amsterdam, which strikes me as insane. If ever you get a chance to see Todd do this show (and it would go a storm at G.A.Y., or in Vegas), sell a kidney for a ticket.

Shining still…

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~ by Ian Marchant on February 8, 2010.

14 Responses to “A True Star, a Wizard.”

  1. Good one Ian and that’s the first time I’ve been quoted. His singing was great on the night but relistening to my CD today his voice is astounding.

  2. terrific… and him! A bit raggedy here and there but what the fuh? Old punks don’t mind a clunker…
    Let’s hope this is reprised; I’d go again.

  3. Nicely captured, IP. I’d go again, but as you were saying Paul, a ‘History of Todd’ show would be good next time…

  4. Yaa-a-a-h. My brother Jeff, he who you knew well Ian, he was a Rundgren fan.

  5. There isn’t a washing machine on the TARDIS, but then you knew I’d say something like that

  6. Was?

  7. This is from Wiki…
    On the day Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon, he left an eight-track tape of Rundgren’s album The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, along with other artifacts, in his New York hotel room in an orderly semicircle on the hotel dresser. “I left it as a statement, I guess,” he was quoted as saying in Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon (Jack Jones, Villard Books, 1992). Chapman had been obsessed with Rundgren and told Jones, “Right between the chambers of your heart is how Rundgren’s music is to me. I cannot overestimate the depth of what his music meant to me.”…
    The guy in the bandana in front of us mentioned this and said he was in no doubt Chapman killed Lennon because Lennon had ‘dissed’ Rundgren…

  8. Was. Maybe still is.

  9. Jeff still with us, though?

  10. Jeff still is. Oh yes. As I have seen you in person since you asked that question this may seem a redundant reply. But for all I know, Ian, there could be literally ooh, dozens of people awaiting the answer with baited breath. And what do you bait your breath with? Sweetcorn? Boilies? Do you use groundbait too? Freshwater or sea?

  11. “Every eye fixed itself upon him; with parted lips and bated breath the audience hung upon his words, taking no note of time, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the tale”

  12. I thought as much. The teeming hordes were rapt in their anticipation.

  13. I heard on the wireless earlier that Todd Rundgren is to be featured in an eddition of The Record Producers on Radio 2, 10:00pm this Saturday (27th Feb).

  14. Allow me to alert you that my new book A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio is published on 1 October, 2010 by Jawbone Press. It covers the making of every notable album that Todd Rundgren ever produced and features exclusive interviews with Todd and all of his major clients, from Robbie Robertson and Russell Mael, to Patti Smith, XTC, Psychedelic Furs, Meat Loaf and New York Dolls (and more). I only suggest it because you seem interested in Todd’s work.

    Peace and stuff.

    Paul Myers
    Berkeley, California

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