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.