Joe Jackson and new 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Todd Rundgren‘s paths first crossed professionally on April 24, 2004 at the small Joe’s Pub, tucked inside the Public Theater in New York City. That evening, Rundgren celebrated 15 years of his musical Up Against It by recreating the show in concert at its original home of the Public to benefit the theatre. Jackson sang the role of Father Brodie, and he and Rundgren hit it off so well that they decided to continue their collaboration. The result was a sold-out show in summer 2004 at the Public’s much larger Central Park venue, the open-air, 1,800-capacity Delacorte Theater, at which they were joined by the “alternative string quartet” Ethel. The following year, Jackson, Rundgren, and Ethel took their act on the road for an international tour. Now, that tour is seeing belated release from Purple Pyramid Records. State Theater New Jersey 2005 arrives as a 2CD/DVD set on June 18. It was recorded on April 29, 2005 at New Brunswick, New Jersey’s venerable State Theatre (note “Theatre” is the venue’s proper spelling).
The New Jersey date was early in the 50-date run of shows that took the singer-songwriters from a rocky opening in Melbourne, Florida (which led Rundgren to actually apologize online for a lackluster performance) on April 13 to a triumphant close in San Sebastian, Spain on July 5. The show began with Ethel performing five “post-classical” pieces before the solo Jackson took to the stage and the piano for a compelling 11-song set of staples (“Stepping Out,” “Be My Number Two,” “Is She Really Going Out with Him”) and then-recent material (“Awkward Age,” “Take It Like a Man,” “Love at First Light”) as well as a cover of The Beatles’ “Girl.” He also previewed “Citizen Sane” which would be released on his 2008 LP Rain.
Following Jackson’s set, it was Rundgren’s turn. He accompanied himself on various instruments including piano and guitar for a loose and typically eclectic set, also of 11 songs. Nodding to the tour’s roots, he reprised “Free, Male, and 21” from the score of Up Against It. Deep cuts (“I Don’t Want to Tie You Down,” “Afterlife,” Utopia’s “The Wheel”) were played alongside a couple of familiar hits (“Hello, It’s Me,” “Bang the Drum All Day”) and more fan favorites (“Love of the Common Man,” “Black and White,” “Compassion”).
For many in attendance, the highlight was the encore featuring all three artists. Ethel played with Jackson on Laughter and Lust‘s “The Other Me” and Rundgren on A Cappella‘s “Pretending to Care” before Rundgren, Jackson, and the quartet tore into heavy renditions of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Rundgren’s searing Something/Anything rocker “Black Maria.” Reviewing a May 2005 Los Angeles performance, Variety‘s Rich Nieciecki wrote, “The truly revelatory moments came when the two headliners combined with violins, viola, and cello for a bit on their own material and a show-stopping (though rather arbitrarily chosen) rendition of The Beatles’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ which featured both principals singing and Rundgren concentrating.” (The writer is alluding to Todd’s casual onstage demeanor and occasional slip-ups; during the State Theatre show, he attempted the Something/Anything tune “Song of the Viking” before abandoning it.)
Purple Pyramid’s release presents the full concert on 2 CDs and 1 DVD. (Hopefully the packshot is an early representation of the artwork; not only is “Theatre” spelled incorrectly for the State Theatre, but Rundgren’s “Lysistrata” is spelled “Lysistrada” [sic].) The discs are housed in an eight-panel digipak which also includes a booklet. Joe Jackson, Todd Rundgren, and Ethel’s State Theater New Jersey 2005 hits stores on June 18. You’ll find the track listing and pre-order links below!
- Nepomuk’s Dances: Memory
- Pelimanni’s Revenge
- Sweet Hardwood: Spiritual
- Sweet Hardwood: Shuffle
- Steppin’ Out
- Awkward Age
- Take It Like a Man
- It’s Different for Girls
- Obvious Song
- Love at First Light
- Be My Number Two
- Citizen Sane
- Is She Really Going Out with Him
- Love of the Common Man
- I Don’t Want to Tie You Down
- Tiny Demons
- Free, Male, and 21
- Hello It’s Me
- Bang the Drum All Day
- Black and White
- The Wheel
- The Other Me – Joe Jackson & Ethel
- Pretending to Care – Todd Rundgren & Ethel
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps – Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson, & Ethel
- Black Maria – Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson, & Ethel