April 6, 2012
San Juan Capistrano, CA
Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Donald McMullen
You have to wonder why Todd Rundgren keeps coming back to the Coach House. Not that it’s a bad thing necessarily; it’s just when you think of what Todd Rundgren has done, in terms of the songs he’s written and recorded, the instruments he can play, the artists he’s produced, the people with whom he’s been associated — it’s all a bit daunting, really. But here he was, again, on the intimate stage in this charming, eclectic beach town venue embedded in the thick of a commercial district parallel to the Interstate 5.
Tonight at the Coach House — billed as an Unpredictable Evening — Rundgren had the best players in his corner, including bassist Kasim Sulton, legendary drummer Prairie Prince, guitarist Jesse Gress and keyboardist John Ferenzik. All have played with Rundgren over the years and know the material inside out. Blasting off with “Real Man,” the singer, clad in a Brave New World Aldous Huxley T-shirt, took immediate command of his surroundings. The chemistry on that stage was electric, instilling a warm feeling in this reviewer. So…it was going to be that kind of evening…
Carrying on with “Love Of The Common Man” — from 1976’s Faithful and one of many adult pop-oriented tracks in the man’s cache — Rundgren then went outside the box with fringy fare like “Buffalo Grass” from 2000’s One Long Year (which happens to include a re-recorded version of “Love Of The Common Man”) and “Lucky Guy,” another poppy, brilliant and short ballad from Hermit Of Mink Hollow. He followed this eloquently with another one from the same album, “Can We Still Be Friends,” and somehow all was right within the span of five minutes or so.
Throughout the show, Rundgren moved from playing what appeared to be a turquoise Fender Stratocaster to frontman to sitting on a stool with a table of snacks, percussive instruments and whatnot at his fingertips. He warned the audience that he didn’t take requests and was constantly challenged with the count-in with the rest of the band to virtually every song — obviously a little uptown humor to keep things fresh and everyone paying attention.
You look at a guy like Todd Rundgren, and you get lost in the history. He produced records for Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad and Meat Loaf. He caught the ire of John Lennon in 74 in a strange exchange of words (look it up), made brilliant albums like Something/Anthing?, A Wizard, A True Star, and Healer, and gigged with everyone from Ringo Starr to the Cars. Tonight, he was a humble servant of the audience, digging deep in his songbook. “We’re playing the songs you would have requested if we took requests,” he announced at one point during the show.
The spirited and swift execution of 1995’s “Espresso” crash-landed into the morose, Utopia track, “Love Is the Answer,” and it sort of worked out. The equally soothing melody of “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” simply wooed the Orange County crowd into a mind-numbing daze.
Having missed the tour Rundgren did in 2010, playing A Wizard, A True Star in its entirety, I was relieved to hear a heavenly slice ala “I’m So Proud” and “Ooh Baby Baby” (which isn’t to say I wouldn’t haven’t minded hearing something like “Rock & Roll Pussy” or “Sometimes I Don’t Know”). Once he took up his guitar and fell into “I Saw The Light,” it dawned on me that Something/Anything? is really the album that put Rundgren on the map. Gress and Rundgren traded a handful of licks and got the place, especially the many musicians in the crowd, hopping.
Something/Anything? hatched another favorite, Rundgren’s only Top 10 hit, “Hello It’s Me,” part of the encore that ended with “A Dream Goes On Forever,” from the 1974 album, Todd, another one he performed in its entirety along with Healing during a 2010 swing through the Midwest. I obviously missed out on some killer Todd Rundgren shows in 2010. But I can take comfort in what I saw tonight somehow making up for what I haven’t seen. Based on how alive and entertaining the man and his band were, I’m optimistic about seeing more shows in the future.