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CD Reviews: Review of The Best of Todd Rundgren Live by Todd Rundgren
Thompson Home / CD Reviews Home / Entertainment Channel / Entertainment Web Guide

Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com Todd Rundgren: The Best of Todd Rundgren Live (Sanctuary 2005)

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Throughout his career, Todd Rundgren has often been swiped at by his critics for not being predictable and cranking out the expected hits and indulging his own eccentric tastes behind the microphones too much. While this critic has never had a problem with that at all, and believes it’s what kept Rundgren worth investigating whenever a new studio album drops, it is a little harder to get behind the live releases, which, if anything, truly do show off Todd’s more eccentric styles in a rougher light. As great a guitarist and overall musician as the guy is, he has always definitely seemed better in the studio than onstage. At least when it comes to the quantity of live releases shipped out by Rundgren thus far.

Instead of the usual date-specific show that Todd has been issuing as of late, The Best of Todd Rundgren Live is instead a collection of shows dating back to 1979 and moving through 2004, all mixed seamlessly to give the impression of one show. The song selection includes a bunch of expected solo and Utopia hits, as well as “Soul Brother” from Todd’s last studio album, Liars. And again, it’s a decent listen and all, but nothing anyone’s going to pull out consistently to groove to. The whole thing, like other live albums of Rundgren’s that have preceded this, is just a bit scattershot.

Things open with the expected “Real Man,” one of those songs from a more or less failed album in Todd’s vast catalogue (Initiation) that have somehow stood the test of time and still gets pulled out for the crowds. It’s a solid performance with Todd’s Big Band and certainly the crowd pleaser, but being one of those songs that was always just so-so to begin with, it pretty much sticks to the books. Not so with the next track, “Love of the Common Man” which has been re-recorded already (and in exemplary fashion) on Todd’s One Long Year after being originally released on his Faithful LP back in ’76. Here, the track has been refitted with some tasty horns and a sleeker groove, but damned if the ending just doesn’t go on a bit too long.

The disaster of this disc has to undoubtedly be the version of “I Saw the Light” included here. Even in the liner notes to the disc, Todd is aware of the audio verité of it, noting that it was recorded with the A Cappella choir and that the original instrumental tracks from 1972 were used with the vocal track wiped out. So, basically they’re just singing over a tape of the original Something/Anything? track, and it sounds like shit. Consider it Todd Rundgren karaoke by the man himself.

Among the better moments here are “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference,” “Soul Brother,” “Love in Action,” and “Can We Still Be Friends.” However, if Todd truly feels that “Hello It’s Me” is just an albatross around his neck that he’s tired of playing as he states in the liner notes, then why not just stop? Hell, even Led Zeppelin didn’t play “Stairway to Heaven” every time out. And after all this time, it’s annoying to hear Todd do his sarcastic psycho laugh after the line “But I love you best, it’s not something that I say in jest” on “I Saw the Light.” He’s been doing that since the ‘70s, which is in full display on his best live album, Back to the Bars.

It’s nice to still have Todd around, and certainly last year’s Liars was a really good album from him, but hearing all these live discs that he keeps sending out as of late reminds one of when Frank Zappa was doing a similar thing and how hit and miss they were as well. It’s cool to appease the fans, but Rundgren’s just not the kind of artist that has so far sent out enough live material that distinguishes itself from one another in each of the releases. The Best of Todd Rundgren Live certainly can’t be that, given that there have been better live versions of these songs already issued, and the fact that the track list is rather esoteric in places (“Can’t Stop Running,” “Rock Love,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”). So it’s certainly not the best. But it ain’t bad, either.  

~Jason Thompson 


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