Todd Rundgren–Live at Center Stage

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“You’re in for it now.”

Todd Rundgren.  Not really a fan.  But, when offered a free ticket, I welcome the opportunity to become one.

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Rundgren may as well live in Atlanta.  He tours regularly and plays here 2-3 times each year. My concert buddy, Frank, intended to take his wife, who despite her interest months ago when he purchased the tickets favored another option at the time of event.  Her loss and my gain.   We arrived at the parking deck, saved a few $ by enjoying some beer that he had brought along, and then had to go pay the parking meter. This sign was adjacent. 

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That’s just a really interesting sign, isn’t it?  There’s one posted on each level of the garage as, apparently, it’s a message that needs widespread distribution.  There may also be a collectibility factor for dorm rooms or other spots based on the security chain tying it to the wall.  I didn’t inspect it too closely to see if it had itself become a target.  Such begins the Todd Rundgren experience.

Center Stage’s capacity is ~1,050, with steeply tiered reserved seats and a general admission floor area.  It’s about as perfect a setup as a concert goer might ask, though it’s showing its age and wear.  Our seats were in the first row, far to the right.  This microclimate of this corner in the fan universe turned out to be as entertaining as any I’ve been in and also the home of the evening for Rundgren’s Top 3 Atlanta fans.  

Fan #2 brought his wife and had assumed the entire facility was General Admission only to find themselves standing for the duration.  A ticket price comparison indicated he paid the same to stand as we did to sit.  That didn’t go over too well, as he’d paid a few hundred bucks for a ticket to see Rundgren just a few years ago and many times before.  In the “oughtness” of the world, I suppose he deserved seats.  He knew all the lyrics and danced the night away within his elbow’s radius.  

Fan #1, Julie, a very proud graduate of Avondale High School of which I was reminded frequently, saw Rundgren 35 years ago and… had a picture of the event on her phone… and had managed to get her hand on his leg at time.  In your mind’s eye, she sits to my left, Frank to my right.  Fan #3, seated on Frank’s other side, played a minor role in the evening as “Not Frank’s wife” but settled the competition of “Who Owns Rundgren” having seen him the earliest of the three, 40 years ago in Greenwich Village.  There’s bragging rights.

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It kind of makes one feel guilty about getting a free ticket, knowing the name of one of his songs and none of his lyrics beyond a chorus.  Why?  Well, my concert buddy paid about $40 for the ticket after disservice fees.  Fan #1 had bought hers off of StubHub for $238 – I’m hoping that was not per ticket as she also brought her younger sister.  Yay, free ticket!  The show was sold out, and his loyal legions pay to see their Todd. 

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Fan #1 endeared herself to us upon arrival.  Or, maybe attached herself.  She made her way past my buddy, who is quite adept at turning any interaction into a friendly conversational one.  Slightly jostled, he replied with smiled courtesy “Hey now, dont make me spill my drink.”  That was enough for Fan #1 to be enamored with him for the rest of the evening.  The repartee wasn’t as varied as it was persistent. 

She, responding to the possible upset of Frank’s drink:  “I’m a fat assed bitch from Dekalb County!  You don’t mess with me!”  He, possibly mishearing her: “Don’t roll a cab over on me!”   (DeKalb, a cab – get it?)  Repeat this 3 to 4 times.  Kind of fun.  And add Avondale High School for flavor because that apparently means something in Dekalb County.   Her sister then, seems to be the caretaker of the two, holding the leash so that the other doesn’t stray outside of the yard.   She apologized throughout the evening, mouthing the words, at times verbally, and through frequent facial expressions of embarrassment and apology.  It’s hard work being a sister, I suppose.  That said, we learned that Fan #1 arrived pre-lit for the concert (“I felt so bad for the Uber driver.  She kissed him!”), not to read too much into her theatrics as she is a good person who raised three triplets and a son, all of whom are successful adults, and that she used to flip the albums over while her sister sang Todd’s songs when they were kids.  I suspect Fan #1’s might have resulted in scratched records when she’s  exuberant and “into Todd.” 

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As mentioned, Fan #1 freely expressed her love for the guy on stage, and to a degree sought out affection from those around her as well… as in, well, me.  I had a DUI (dancing under the influence) chat buddy.  But she really liked Frank, remarking several times that she shoud sit between us.  And at some point, she figured out that Fan #3, “Not Frank’s wife,” is not Frank’s wife, and then an evil thought emerges.  I lean over to Frank and let him know “You’re in for it now.”  I didn’t give him time to figure that out before quickly swapping positions with Fan #1 who gleefully joined his side.

This had a number of benefits, really.  I assuaged her sister’s concern for the toll Fan #1was having on the evening.  I watched the band for longer moments without distraction.  And, Frank got to an enjoy Fan #1 dancing in front of him inviting him for a grind, while occasionally cooing over her shoulder “You know that I’d be with you if I could” and “spend the night if you think I should” during Rundgren’s classic song, “Hello It’s Me.”  That’s the song I knew was Rundgren’s, now a soundtrack for one of my best moves ever.

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That’s the Rundgren experience, an absolute hoot.  Now, for the concert.

Frank had guessed and hoped that Rundgren would not have an opening act and, at the age of 67, might start on time resulting in an early evening for us.  The show was posted for an 8:30 start.  Rundgren takes the stage at 8:37, briefly mimics the pose on the backscreen, and off we go.  You’re already introduced to Fan #1.  She screams, “I love you Tooooooooooooooooood.”  This phrase was repeated at least once per song and, truth be told, Todd did seem to favor our side of the stage though I didn’t see any flicker of recognition for his legendary leg groper.

It turns out that there are several Rundgen songs that aren’t just familiar, but known.  “Can We Still be Friends?” – a dose of 70’s classic pop.  “I Saw the Light” – ditto.   “Bang the Drum All Day” - Hard not to know that one, but I was probably the only adult who didn’t know what was coming when a snare drum was brought to the stage.  Rundgren spoke a bit about receiving letters from angry fans who attended a show where their favorite songs weren’t played.   With a touch of bitterness that people preferred to skip his work of the last several decades, he labeled this “The Walking Dead” tour but softened it as songs not for the head but the heart.

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I knew that Rundgren had played many  instruments on some of his albums, but I was still surprised by his prowess at guitar.  Straightforward, classic leads are not heard often today, but he relished the moments in songs such as “Kiddie Boy,” “Unloved Children,” and “One World.”  Elsewhere, he occasionally let the band play and more or less conducted himself with his arms as he sang – perhaps the producer in him speaking out.  His voice was surprisingly good, and he still reaches for the falsetto parts ably.  Rundgren was engaged with the audience and spry.  He’s at the age that I might retire… I hope I’m as nimble.  Overall, the experience rated higher than the concert, but it was a surprisingly good one.  (i.e. Thanks Frank!)

Set list:

I Saw the Light
Love of the Common Man
Open My Eyes
Can We Still be Friends?
Buffalo Grass
Love in Action (Utopia song)
Kiddie Boy
I Don’t Want to Tie You Down
Bang the Drum All Day
Secret Society (Utopia song)
Hammer in My Heart (Utopia song)
Soul Brother
Lost Horizon
Fascist Christ
Unloved Children
Drive
Medley: I’m So Proud / Ooh Baby Baby / I Want You
Lysistrata (Utopia song)
Determination
One World (Utopia song)

Encore:

Black and White
Hello It’s Me
A Dream Goes on Forever

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