Todd Rundgren has been rather generous of late with his archive, treating fans to a number of live concert recordings on various labels including gigs from 2010 (Todd Rundgren’s Johnson Live), 1990 (Live at the Warfield Theatre, San Francisco) and 1975 (Todd Rundgren’s Utopia Live at Hammersmith Odeon). Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings label continues its Archive Series with the release of Todd Rundgren and Utopia’s 2-CD set Live at the Electric Ballroom: Milwaukee, 23rd October 1978.
As longtime Utopia fans will know, Electric Ballroom features the “classic” Utopia line-up that wasn’t yet completed as of the 1975 Hammersmith show of Rundgren (guitar/vocals), Willie Wilcox (drums/vocals), Roger Powell (keyboards/vocals) and Kasim Sulton (bass/vocals). At Hammersmith, John Siegler was still handling bass duties. Months before Hammersmith (Utopia’s U.K. debut), the band had recorded Another Live when it was still a six-piece group with Rundgren, Powell, Wilcox, Siegler, Moogy Klingman and Ralph Schuckett. The tight band on Electric Ballroom would more or less remain in place until disbanding in 1986; they would briefly reunite in 1992.
The concert preserved on this release was an offshoot of Rundgren’s Back to the Bars tour. In May 1978, Rundgren began a series of live shows featuring many of the musicians with whom he had worked over the years; the eventual double-album commemoration of the tour featured recordings from New York’s Bottom Line, Los Angeles’ Roxy, and Cleveland’s Agora Ballroom. Those concerts, drawing on virtually the whole of the artist’s solo career, led to another extensive U.S. tour slated to run through November of that year. Rundgren and Utopia played two nights at Milwaukee’s Electric Ballroom, a former movie house that still stands today, shuttered.
Live at the Electric Ballroom captures the first of two shows played there. It was recorded directly through the PA system’s mixing desk to be broadcast on local radio. The set skillfully balanced pop compositions with more progressive rock-oriented material, indulging both sides of Rundgren and Utopia’s talents. Most of the songs played were from Rundgren’s solo albums though a handful of songs emanated from Utopia’s Another Live and Oops! Wrong Planet including two co-writes: Rundgren and Wilcox’s “Gangrene” and Rundgren and Powell’s “Abandon City.”
The setlist stretched back to Todd’s 1973 breakthrough Something/Anything, reprising that double album’s “Couldn’t I Just Tell You,” “Black Maria,” “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” and the hit single “Hello, It’s Me.” From his next two albums A Wizard, A True Star and Todd, the band played the anthemic “Just One Victory” and a solo-piano “A Dream Goes On Forever,” respectively. Three songs hailed from 1975’s Initiation (“Real Man,” “The Death of Rock and Roll” and an epic, 12-minute “Eastern Intrigue/Initiation”) and two from its follow-up, the half-covers, half-originals Faithful (“Love of the Common Man” and “The Verb ‘To Love,'” both originals). Rundgren’s most recent solo album at the time, 1978’s Hermit of Mink Hollow, was divided into The Easy Side and The Difficult Side. From The Easy Side, it yielded a performance in Milwaukee of the stirring ballad “Can We Still Be Friends.” From The Difficult Side came “You Cried Wolf.”
You’ll find more details and the complete track listing after the jump!
The Archive Series’ “Official Bootleg” edition has been mastered by Ben Wiseman from the original ¼-inch stereo masters from that evening. The booklet notes that, as multi-tracks don’t exist, no remixing was possible, but listeners shouldn’t fear. This is a high quality release that’s eminently listenable. Live at the Electric Ballroom includes liner notes from Mark Powell and numerous photographs of Rundgren and Utopia on and backstage.
The next year, Rundgren and Utopia would be back in the studio creating the album that became Adventures in Utopia, released late in December 1979. It, too, blended pop and progressive styles with rock and R&B influences. Live at the Electric Ballroom presents Rundgren and his longest-standing band in their live prime. This vibrant addition to the Todd/Utopia catalogue is available now from Esoteric Recordings at the links below!
- Real Man
- It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference
- Love of the Common Man
- Abandon City
- The Verb ‘To Love’
- The Seven Rays
- Can We Still Be Friends
- The Death of Rock and Roll
- You Cried Wolf
- A Dream Goes On Forever
- Black Maria
- Eastern Intrigue/Initiation
- Couldn’t I Just Tell You
- Hello, It’s Me
- Just One Victory
All tracks previously unreleased.