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Todd Rundgren - Back to the Bars CD (album) cover


Todd Rundgren


Crossover Prog

3.67 | 19 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars A true star

Perhaps it is not surprising, but Todd Rundgren has released very few live albums during his long career. When looking at his solo career, as opposed to his work with Utopia, the opportunities to hear recordings of him playing live are even less. Given that his solo albums tend to be just that, solo projects, recreating them live presents something of a challenge, creating the need for a touring band to be put together.

"Back to the bars" captures Todd live in 3 US cities early on, around the time of the "Hermit of Mink Hollow" album. The set list draws in songs from the various albums he had released up to this point, and while not a "Greatest hits live" as such ("I saw the light" only appears as part of a medley for example), it does arguably represent a "Best of" collection.

Todd makes little attempt to change or develop the songs for the live environment, indeed the overriding objective would appear to have been to recreate them as accurately as possible. As such, there's nothing here to get excited about in the form of anything new. That said, the set opens with two killer songs. "Real man" from "Initiation" is ideal for warming up the crowd, and although the rendition here lacks the polished finesse of the studio recording, it makes up for it in energy and vibrancy. "The verb to love" (from "Faithful") is such a fine song, it would sound good sung by a boy band. The live arrangement of the song captured here not only retains the magnificence of the original, but sees Todd putting in a virtuoso vocal performance.

On the first side (of the four LP sides), Todd is supported by his colleagues from Utopia, blurring the lines further between this and a Utopia concert. The band is absent collectively from the remaining sides (although individuals from Utopia continue to feature on some tracks), but Todd replaces them with some well known names as Hall and Oates, Stevie Nicks and Spencer Davis. At times, this plethora of top names can lead to the album sounding a bit like a "Last waltz" collection, "The range war" being particularly countrified, but Todd manages to pull things back each time (in that case through a slightly slowed down version of the power pop "Black and white").

One of the few disappointments for me on the album is "Zen archer", a song which is an absolute highlight on "A wizard a true star". Here it seems to lose much of its majesty and anthemic qualities, becoming a rather fluffy novelty piece. That said, the song does feature a fine sax break.

Overall, the (then) more recent "Initiation" songs probably come across best in this set. Those with a passion for all things Todd will find pretty much everything here though to be highly enjoyable. Whether hearing the songs in a live environment adds anything to them is a matter for personal taste. I can see no reason to look beyond the studio albums.

At well over 100 minutes, the original double LP offered great value, something of tradition for Todd around this time.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |


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