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

BACK TO THE BARS

Todd Rundgren

Crossover Prog


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Tom Ozric
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars If ever an artist had a definitive set of tunes contained on an album, this is it. This wonderful dbl LP of songs by Todd R was culled from several live performances, (Bottom Line in N.Y., The Roxy in L.A. and the Agora in Cleveland) during '77-'78, and serves its purpose as a worthy anthology, and also brings Todd straight into your living-room ; he sure has a great personality and a fantastic voice, he creates a good rapport with his audience, and is a killer guitarist to boot. The set features him both as a solo artist with lots of famous guests at the time (Hall and Oates, Rick Derringer, Spencer Davis, Stevie Nicks, to name a few...) and alongside his band UTOPIA (but don't go expecting anything like 'The Ikon'...). The track list is a vast sprawl of songs from most Todd albums up to this point, and offers a good cross-section of Pop-oriented material along with some of the more challenging, Progressive inflected things he'd occasionally compose. His most popular pieces are often made up of beautiful melodies, catchy hooks and rather soulful vocals - It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference (a real tear-jerker), The Last Ride (with some searing guitar soloing), A Dream Goes On Forever (just a man and a piano), Zen Archer (almost spiritual), Hello It's Me (great song)....... even the soul medley of 50's style doo-wop tunes tugs at this listener's heart-strings. The songs featuring Utopia seem to be the more complex ones. Eastern Intrigue and Initiation come to mind. If there ever was a Progressive flavoured ballad, then, The Verb To Love is it. The vocal harmonies of Roger Powell, Kasim Sulton and Willie Wilcox are just so warm, not to mention the beautiful music behind it all. 'Back To The Bars' is actually a great starting point if one wants to be introduced to this great man's music. A strong 4 stars from me.

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Send comments to Tom Ozric (BETA) | Report this review (#197126)
Posted Sunday, January 04, 2009 | Review Permalink
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.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#200636)
Posted Monday, January 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
4 stars Todd Rundgren is an exceptional songwriter, a great producer, and wonderful musician. But strangely enough, despite having a solo career for four decades, he only has one live album. Sure, his band Utopia has a number of live albums, which include a few of his solo compositions, but this is the only album to primarily feature his solo works.

The album features most of Todd's hits up to 1978, when the album was released (thankfully, this was before the awful Bang The Drum), so it has a fine array of great pop songs. There are also a few of his harder rocking songs, like Love In Action (a Utopia song, that has some pretty funny lyrics), Black And White, and a favorite of mine Black Maria.

There is a smattering of Todd's progressive songs as well. Don't You Ever Learn? and Zen Archer are both light prog, but sound great in these live performances. Eastern Intrigue, with it's layered vocals, is just spectacular, and Initiation comes off well, too.

The band is top notch, mostly consisting of different groupings of Utopia musicians, with the Hello People (Todd's touring band for his solo material for much of the seventies) as well. There are other stars appearing on the album, also, but most of them, like Stevie Nicks and Hall & Oates, are just singing on the finale, Hello, It's Me.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#339970)
Posted Wednesday, December 01, 2010 | Review Permalink

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