Todd Rundgren At The BBC 1972-1982 is a veritable treasure trove from the musical genius’s most successful decade, three audio discs and one DVD of prime live Rundgren, both solo and with his band, Utopia. The decade was quite a prolific one for him, and it shows. He would release twenty albums during this time—twelve solo, eight with his band, Utopia—so throughout the three discs, there’s absolutely no set list overlap. Furthermore, though he had a handful of classic hits, they’re not really the focus here—and though lovely songs like “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw The Light” are highlights of his first appearance, recorded in 1972, they don’t appear again. That set is sublime, only featuring Rundgren and a taped backing band.
He would return, but this time he was a part of a group. Utopia’s standard fare provided more variety from his solo work, but never at the expense of quality. Their first appearance in 1975 showed them to be a versatile group, adeptly going from soulful ballads (“The Last Ride”), hard rock (covers of Nazz’s “Open My Eyes” and The Move’s “Do Ya”), with an epic electronic freak-out (“Mister Triscuits”) and a cover of West Side Story’s “Something’s Coming” thrown in for good measure. It’s an eclectic set, and occasionally it feels a bit wobbly, but overall it’s an enjoyable performance.
By the time of their second appearance two years later, Utopia had grown into a democratic group, with each member contributing songs and taking vocal leads, all of whom are featured in this performance. Keyboardist Roger Powell handles “Sunburst Finish,” drummer Willie Wilcox offers “Jealousy,” while bassist Kasim Sultan handles vocals on Powell’s “Windows.” All three are powerful singers—all worthy of their leads—and it’s clear why Rundgren had them in his band; all three live up to Rundgren’s standards. But it’s the over-the-top, nearly half-hour epic “Singring And The Glass Guitar” that takes center stage here; it’s a wild voyage of a ride, though, truthfully, the verdict is still out on that one!
Which is where the video portion comes in handy. The DVD offers three performances, one of which is “Singring” captured live, in all its glory. Between the gigantic pyramid, the (ahem) puppets, the quirky vocals, and the special effects, one might be forgiven for expecting to see Kasim Sultan stuck inside a plastic pod or Mr. Rundgren playing his guitar with a Stradivarius. Still, the Spinal Tap-ness of the performance is amusing. Much better is the final performance here, taken from 1982, a solo performance on Old Grey Whistle Test. It’s a great set, finding Rundgren switching between piano and guitar. Stripped of Utopia, Rundgren shows his mastery as songwriter as he goes between deep album cuts, one or two hits, and a few new songs. The final tune, “A Dream Goes On Forever,” is devastatingly beautiful.
Capturing the essence of Todd Rundgren isn’t an easy thing to do, but these performances are not to be missed, as this collection does a wonderful job of capturing the talents of a wizard, a true star.