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Concert Reviews:
Todd Rundgren and company take fans to Utopia at the Fillmore

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2018

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DETROIT -- Absence clearly made Todd Rundgren's Utopia fans' hearts grow fonder during the past 32 years -- at least the fans who showed up for group's show on Thursday night, May 17, at the Fillmore Detroit.

It wasn't a large crowd -- well short of 1,000 -- but a clear sense of joy and even a bit of disbelief filled the venue for a reunion that's been long desired but, save for one-off get-togethers, denied by Rundgren and company for just as long. And the generous two-and-a-half hour show (including intermission), trolling through Utopia's entire 1973-85 recording catalog, was well worth the wait.

With trademark instrumental chops and vocal harmonies intact, Rundgren and company sculpted the 24-song concert into two conceptual halves, acknowledging the broad range of Utopia's musical adventures. The first captured Utopia's early, progressive rock days, starting with what Rundgren called "the blizzard," a triumvirate of mid-70s opuses "Utopia Theme," "The Ikon" and "Another Life." He and keyboardist Gil Assays traded solos, while bassist Kasim Sulton and drummer John "Willie" Wilcox buttoned down the songs' intricate arrangements, accented by trippy graphics on a large rear-stage video screen.

And there was more where that came from via the moody "The Wheel," "Overture: Mountaintop and Sunrise/Communion With the Sun" -- whose lyrical salutations to Ra were flashback silly in 2018 -- and a powerful "Last of the New Wave Riders." Utopia's version of the Move's "Do Ya," "Freedom Fighters" and the Sulton-sung "Back on the Street" provided some respite from the heady onslaught, but epic intent of the rest was a delight to those who'd resigned themselves to never hearing them again.

With outfits changed and the stage reset, the concert's second half focused on shorter, more accessible and melodic pop-rock, including radio-supported favorites such as "The Road To Utopia," "Set Me Free," "Love In Action" and the energetic disco anthem "Rock Love." The group was still able to show off some flashy playing -- Assaya's many solos and Rundgren's prog-like guitar break during "Hammer in My Heart," for instance -- but the real message was a clear affirmation of Utopia's potent pop prowess.

The quartet sent the Fillmore crowd home on a high, too, making a pointed lyrical statement with the anthems "Love is the Answer," "One World" and the encore "Just One Victory" and Rundgren delivering one final, stinging solo to end the night. We can, and should, hope for more Utopia -- certainly sooner than another 32 years -- but if this tour proves to be the group's last, Thursday's memorable performance will certainly sustain its legacy.

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