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Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Sorry State...

Todd Rundgren’s career has occasionally been characterized by unexpected musical left turns. He's creatively migrated from the wistful balladeer of “Hello it’s Me” to the fusion-leaning leader of Utopia V1, and then on to the creator of harder rock with the latter Utopia followed by a return to solo experimentation. So it was really no surprise when Rundgren announced a new turn with the impending arrival of State, a journey into electronica. What was surprising was the totally lackadaisical, technically-deficient performance given by Rundgren at Philadelphia’s Trocadero last night.

Ensconced upon a high platform center stage, with ex-Tubes drummer Prairie Prince manning an e-kit stage right and flanked to the left by long-time tour guitarist Jesse Gress, Rundgren stood surrounded by electronics and one electric guitar. Over his head a microphone hung down, and prominent lighting rigs constantly shot beams of color into the crowd.

Todd towers over the Trocadero.

Rundgren opened with the first track on State, “Imagination.” It’s a curious song for an album that is described by its creator as electronica - a heavy, lumbering rock song that brought the most focus to the evening. Thereafter, as Todd attempted to propel himself into something resembling the current dance world, it was one embarrassing moment after another. A number of shows into the tour, Rundgren seemed to have little feel for what he was attempting to convey. A lack of communication with Prairie Prince was obvious, while Gress’ playing was far more assured than Rundgren’s tentative and only-occasional guitar work. Rundgren also seemed to be having continual difficulty with his main vocal microphone. Worse by far was the fact that, a number of shows into the tour, Rundgren seemed to have little control over his own electronics, which were responsible for the bulk of the sound. Parts stopped or started at inappropriate times, and a common sight last night was Rundgren bent over, staring through his sunglasses at one recalcitrant device or another.

Kraftwerk is often criticized for cold and unfeeling performances. I disagree, but I think everyone who has heard them would agree that their precision is unwavering. Had last night’s Rundgren show been one by Kraftwerk, heads would have been rolling in Düsseldorf.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Rock Book Short Reviews Number Two: Keith Richards

Keith: can't buy a friend? Au contraire...

Keith Richards’ Life was without a doubt one of the most highly-anticipated rock music accounts ever published.

Like most of the books covering the lives of the second wave of rock musicians - those who ascended the charts in the mid-to-late Sixties - Life finds our Stone growing up under the seismic influence of World War Two. It’s hard for many of us relate to that experience for, while the United States has been involved in multiple conflicts, U.S. fighting has taken place elsewhere, like a perpetual “away game.” But as in the books of Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, and scores of others, Keith readily admits being shaped at a fundamental level by the difficult early environment of his life.

Much has been made of the book’s occasionally dismissive attitude toward Mick Jagger, and there are passages that are downright insulting to the Stones’ front man. But there’s little that’s any more shocking than the intense war of words the two waged in the mid-1980s, when each issue of prominent music magazines bore a new tirade by one Glimmer Twin against the other - and those words rang like they were playing for keeps.

More revelatory in Life is Keith simply talking about music. Not surprisingly, Richards is consumed by his role in the Stones and offers some fascinating glimpses into the band’s constantly evolving creative process over the decades.

In the end, though, despite all the tales of drugs and crazed behavior, the overall sense in the air as one closes Life is a bittersweet aura. As you make your way through the pages, especially in the book’s second half, you find that rarely does Keith mention anyone with affection who isn’t directly employed by him or at the very least dependent upon the Rolling Stones generating huge sums of money. Like they’re doing right now…