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Concert Reviews:
Todd Rundgren rocks Detroit -- virtually, from afar

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Wednesday, February 24, 2021

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Todd Rundgren came to Detroit Tuesday night, Feb. 23 -- in a decidedly different manner than he ever has before.

The three-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee played the Detroit "stop" of his Clearly Human Virtual Tour, a 25-date enterprise, from Chicago, from where he and his 10-piece band are transmitting the shows. As promised it was tailored, somewhat, to fit the cyber locale: backstage clocks were set to Detroit time; totems such as sacks of Germack pistachios, Motown DVDs and Shinola playing cards were scattered backstage; and images of the Spirit of Detroit statue and Fox Theatre occupied the rear-stage video screen before and after the performance.

A couple of Tigers jersey could be spotted in the small crowd allowed to attend in person, while on stage Rundgren made a few of the obligatory shout-outs to the Motor City and recalled performances at the Royal Oak Music Theatre and Cobo Arena.

It's an innovative concept and certainly a way to hit "the road" during a pandemic, and it's something Rundgren predicts will have future applications as an alternative to traditional touring. On Tuesday, at least, it was a chance for fans to see a top-level show, another addition to Rundgren's 50-year-plus legacy of surprises that smoothly straddled the line between concert and TV show.

The 23-song concert was built on his 1989 album "Nearly Human," taking eight songs from the set and hearkening back to the touring he did to support it back then. With two horn players and three backup singers, including Rundgren's wife Michele -- plus stalwarts Kasim Sulton on bass and former Tubes drummer Prairie Prince -- the ensemble delivered a two hours and 10 minutes of rock 'n' soul revue, drawing from nine Rundgren albums and also touched on his work with Utopia. There were favorites -- "Real Man," "Love of the Common Man," "Compassion," "Can We Still Be Friends" and "Hello, It's Me" -- and plenty of deep digs, including a funky "Love Science," the abandoned Broadway musical tune "The Smell of Money" (with a swipe at Texas Sen. Ted Cruz afterwards), the bouncy "Sweet" and full-band arrangements of "Lost Horizon" and "Something to Fall Back On" from Rundgren's 1985 "A Cappella" album.

Rundgren himself was happy to play frontman, prowling the stage front and picking up his guitar -- his Fender Stratocaster dubbed "Foamy" for its foam green color -- on only a few songs and letting Bruce Daniel handle most of the six-string heavy lifting, including an extended solo during "Can't Stop Running." Saxophonist Bobby Strickland enjoyed a few spotlight moments as well, while keyboardists Eliot Lewis and Gil Assayas recreated the sonic shimmer at the heart of so many of this particular batch of songs.

A brassy rendition of Utopia's "Rock Love" and a muscular "The Want of the Nail" brought the main set to a charged close, while Rundgren ended the night in a church robe, sermonizing through the gospel-tinged "I Love My Life," decrying greed and materialism for an audience watching from afar. It was more of a simulation than the real thing for real concert fans, but it was certainly a welcome void-filler at a time when full-scale productions are absent from our lives.

Future concerts on Rundgren's Clearly Human Virtual Tour can be purchased via nocapshows.com

Web Site: www.nocapshows.com

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