Monday, May 14, 2018

The Road Still Leads To Utopia

The first concert I ever attended was in the summer of 1980. My dad was a big Todd Rundgren fan and his band, Utopia, was playing at Poplar Creek in Chicago. I had just turned 13 a few months before the show and my dad decided it was time for my rite of passage into the world of live music.

Todd's music had been a big part of my childhood. My dad played Something/Anything, Another Live, Hermit of Mink Hollow and Adventures in Utopia endlessly throughout the 1970's. I count these records as some of my favorite albums of all time. I was so massively excited to see them live I could hardly stand it! It was an amazing concert in a perfect outdoor setting. Seeing Todd and Utopia soon became an annual tradition for me and my dad.

When I lost my father in 1988 to alcohol addiction, Todd and Utopia's music comforted me on a regular basis. Their songs have always had a healing quality about them, including the solo Todd album of the same name. Every time I listened to their music, I thought about the good times with my dad and him not being there was just a little easier to bear. Over the years as I would see Todd live, I'd think about my dad and the music we shared together.

Memories of my father were quite strong last Saturday night in Milwaukee when I caught the much anticipated reunion of Utopia. Todd's band had not really played together as an official unit since 1992. They did warm up for Todd's full album tours in 2009 (minus Willie and with Prairie Prince on drums)  but it seemed less like a real Utopia show and more like a .brief dip into nostalgia. This current tour is a full on Utopia tour, complete with dazzling visuals and a complete musical history of the band. The set list for this tour starts at the beginning and winds its way through the band's whole history.

I was lucky enough to score a VIP ticket which came with a meet and greet before the show. Here's a picture of me and the boys. It was truly an honor to meet them. Michelle Rundgren, Todd's wife, organized this event and did a fantastic job of getting everyone photos with the band and autographs of anything they wanted signed.

Next, it was on to the show!

My VIP ticket got me in the fourth row to take in all the power and glory. I was dead center. I was close enough to get some great photos but far enough away that I could take in all the visuals. I remember wondering right before the show was about to start...would the band match up to their younger selves?

Bear in mind, I've seen Todd 20 times in concert, five of which were with Utopia and, given that they are all getting up their in years (minus Gil Assayas, their new keyboard player), I wondered how they would stack up to their previous shows.

From the opening minutes of the first song ("Utopia Theme"), I knew that they were going to COMPLETELY BLOW AWAY all the previous shows I had seen. They were ON from the very first note. It was shocking, to be quite frank.

A flood of wonderful memories opened up and poured out as they worked their way through both sets. The visuals, which were shovel to the head stunning, worked hand in hand with the note for note renditions of all their best tracks. All band members were energetic and polished throughout the entire 2 and 1/2 hour show. Here are some action shots of each band member.

High points for me were "Overture-Communion With The Sun," "Freedom Figthers," "I Will Wait," and "Rock Love." Kaz was amazing as always...the voice of an angel. It was great to see Willie behind the kit again...truly an amazing drummer who brings a ton of power and passion to each track. New band member Gil Assayas was remarkable, perfectly capturing the essence of Utopia's keyboard parts that are so integral to each song. And Todd was...well TODD! A rock legend...

As the show came to a close, I realized that my entire adolescence had played out in my mind, heart and soul.I felt the spirit of my father so very close to me.

Thanks, Todd, Kaz, Willie and Gil for a truly awesome night!

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