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By Mark Clark
Louisville has never hosted a concert quite like Todd Rundgren's performance Feb. 2 at the Brewery's Thunderdome. And it will probably be a long time before the city is treated to a better one.
Rundgren brought his innovative "Todd Rundgren-Interactive" tour to the Dome, performing solo and in-the-round, ringed by a semicircle of computers and synthesizers. He was musician and ringmaster, not only performing (on guitar, drums, numerous synths and, of course, vocals) but also establishing an eccentric rapport with the crowd.
Throughout the show, Rundgren tossed items ranging from Tootsie Rolls to rubber mice to balloons to condoms out into the crowd gathered around his round, two-tiered stage. He lowered video cameras into the crowd, allowing fans to project whatever images they wished on a bank of video screens above the stage.
At different points in the show, he invited those near the stage to climb onto the lower platform and dance. He even invited a few lucky fans onto the topmost platform to "assist" him. Rundgren danced with the crowd and shook hands with everyone within arm's reach of the stage. When the stage wasn't packed with fans, it was reserved for a trio of female dancers who performed while the maestro played.
The music (almost two hours worth) was mostly from Rundgren's new disc, No World Order, which is available in both CD-interactive and traditional formats. He encored with a pair of old favorites — a searing rendition of "Black and White" and an extended throwdown of the perennially crowd-pleasing "Bang the Drum All Day."
The song selection probably hacked off a few fans, who came to hear Rundgren's Something/Anything-era hits — "Hello It's Me," "I Saw the Light." After all, if this were a TRULY interactive show, wouldn't the crowd have some say in the playlist? But, weighed against the show's remarkable originality, that seems like nit-picking.
I've seen hundreds of concerts in my day. The only one I've seen that compares to this one was Neil Young's solo, electronic "Trans" tour, from the mid-'80s. But that show lacked Rundgren's panache and feel-good vibe.
Rundgren's performance was a high-tech, high-concept, high-energy show that proved surprisingly warm — the sort of thing that, perhaps, only Rundgren could pull off. That, maybe, only Rundgren would dare try. Others might have feared that fans would mob them or steal their equipment. But Todd has spent his whole career forwarding an uplifting, pro-human message. (He did name his band Utopia, after all.) The "TR-I" tour may be his ultimate expression of that philosophy.
It was certainly a heckuva lot of fun.