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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/11/02

Todd Rundgren: Live in Japan
2002 (1990) - Alchemedia Productions (Image Entertainment)

review by Matt Rowe of The Digital Bits

Todd Rundgren: Live in Japan Program Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C-/A-/F

Specs and Features

94 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, film themed menu screens with sound, scene/song access (17 chapters - see track listing below), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: none

It's a sad state of affairs when the once phenomenal Todd Rundgren does his show in a decidedly Vegas style, replete with a Huey Lewis look alike and a schticky backup band. This is a far cry from his Utopia days. But then again, if Kasim Sulton knew that he'd have to don the ridiculous outfits that this band wears, there is no doubt that he'd have opted out. Hell, I have seen Todd Rundgren during his Utopia days and I can tell you that I'm looking on milk cartons for his picture, he is that far removed.

Todd Rundgren moved in stages during his career. Starting out as the key element of Runt with We've Gotta Get You a Woman, to his time with Nazz that provided the wonderful Hello, It's Me and the pop gem, I Saw the Light. His career continued with his pop solo outings (Legend of Mink Hollow) and his rock forays with Utopia (Oops! Wrong Planet). Eventually, Todd devoted all his energies as a solo artist, creating extraordinary albums of pop handiwork. Todd also developed a strong ability to produce recordings, providing some popular bands with unforgettable productions.

This DVD is disturbing in that it redefines Rundgren, possessing the ability to reconfigure peoples' perception of his talent. Although recorded in 1990, Todd has been fairly inactive since, creatively speaking, recording some bad, 'off the beaten track' issues that fizzled critically and commercially. The crazy thing is that watching this disc shows Rundgren, who is no stranger to doing wildly different things, on a strange road in an even stranger place. But it also reveals, for those with a sharp critical eye and who is familiar with Rundgren, that he hasn't lost any talent at all. He has just misdirected his energies. And for the life of me, I don't know why.

This show, recorded at the Tokyo Sun Plaza Hall in 1990, with its Vegas styled production, introduces Todd and his bandmates (11 in all), including 3 very voluptuous backup singers. The show, part of his tour to support Nearly Human, as detailed on the opening scene, is big and distracting. Most of the Nearly Human album is showcased here, with a large smattering of his solo material thrown in to satisfy the concert goers.

Todd becomes a wildly gesticulating vocalist, dressed in a western-styled suit with his campy and highly choreographed band providing able backup. He moves about the stage in what becomes hilarious behavior for that of a once popular rock star. All said, this show is acceptable for peripheral Rundgren fans. I tested this on my wife, who knows very little of Todd except that I once took her to a Utopia show in Chicago at the cool Park West, and his radio hits. I played her Hello, It's Me, which I felt to be a butchered Vegas Jazz piece, not the pop diamond that I know and love. She told me that it was fine. Of course, this speaks volumes to me but that's another story.

Incredibly, stars of Rundgren's talent usually can extend their careers deep into the twilight of their lives. But it seems as if Rundgren has become too eclectic, a disrupting parody of himself. This hinders what we all know can be an illustrious career, that could generate more great albums just as he has created in the past. I like these songs from Nearly Human, but they need a better production to present them. An example of what Rundgren truly is can be heard on Love of the Common Man. He delivers this song in great fashion, acoustically and without backup. It highlights the talent of Rundgren and provides that glimpse into what he can still be.

The concert is shot on film with grain galore, that is especially seen in the lights. This makes for poor video, as artifacting is seen throughout. We should have gotten better. Again, as this is a concert film, stuff like this is usually forgiven. It doesn't detract from the entertainment. The sound, however, is stunning. In 5.1, the soundstage is elaborately expansive, providing the perception of well placed instrumentation. The stereo mix is equally great.

Sadly, there are no extras on this DVD. What you see is what you get. But it may be the saving grace of this forgettable concert. It would be tragic to have any indication of the real talents of Todd Rundgren revealed to us after viewing this reprehensible show - like peeling unsightly skin from a succulent orange.

I would love to see Todd Rundgren under better conditions with a non-structured show. Perhaps Rundgren should get back to what we know he's capable of... and leave the eclectic behavior to others.

Matt Rowe
Visit Matt Rowe's MusicTAP ------ Music Flows There!

Track Listing:

Real Man
Unloved Children
Parallel Lines
Can't Stop Running
Secret Society
Something to Fall Back On
Love of the Common Man
Can We Still Be Friends?
The Waiting Game
Love in Action
Rock Love
The Want of a Nail
Hello, It's Me
I Love My Life

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