TODD RUNDGREN’S
UTOPIA


Roger Powell (L) and Kasim Sulton (R)
pose with me backstage at
Foster
Auditorium, University of Alabama.
The band autographed my crew shirt

all images © Chuck Bryant

I enjoyed the first two Nazz albums during junior high but I didn't have that much interest in Todd's next few solo albums (though later I'd come back to them). As a freshman at Harding College I'd seen the album cover of Todd Rundgren's Utopia. This definitely appeared to go well beyond the Runt albums. It intrigued me enough to make the trip to Little Rock for a Sunday afternoon concert.

I had NO idea what a mind-bending experience I'd have during that almost three-hour show. Heavy and funky synths throughout, a great light show and special effects, plus Todd's offbeat sense of humor (e.g., Freak Parade) and hints of a perspective that would gradually come to reflect some points increasingly meaningful in my own spiritual path.

Working stage crew for this Ra tour at the University of Alabama, I helped set up the Sphinx behind the band and a pyramid frame above. By this time my spiritual searching had intensified, become much more complex, challenging, and often distressing. I had begun finding not only substantial flaws in the core assumptions and texts of not only my conventional Christian faith but also theism/supernaturalism in general. Further, I discovered much good in eastern religion and other lines of thought. When other ("false") approaches shared common ground with the faith I'd grown up in, I often found that they promoted a viewpoint that struck me as more enlightened, more compassionate, more sublime, and often much less superstitious than the theological system I'd always been told was absolute, divine, perfect, complete Truth. Despite these paradoxes and challenges I still held strongly to my heritage, but I had more than just musical interest in this concert.

Many of Todd's lyrics continued echoing much of my evolving world view. This would continue especially with Healing, Second Wind, and Mostly Human.

(These images come from original 3x3 Instamatic prints.)

Drummer Willie Wilcox takes the lead

 

Late in the set the band played Todd's tongue-in-cheek fable, Singring and the Glass Guitar. Jealous forces ("there are always jealous forces in such tales") trap the muse Singring's musical spirit in a glass guitar and lock it in a case. Four bold explorers go off in search of the four keys to free the spirit. Todd's answer to Peter and the Wolf features each player's solo:

 
Willie's drum solo takes him
into the bottomless river
in search of the first key.
Fountains spurt water
(not very visible in this photo)
as the solo grows more intense

 

Kasim braves
fierce desert winds
in search of the second key

 

Roger fights a fire-breathing dragon (someone else had a dragon suit, or maybe just a big mask, on stage) while playing a detachable synth keyboard and shooting a high-intensity light pointer (a laser?) that shows up through the smoke  

Finally, Todd carefully walks up the steps along the pyramid frame (the highest mountain) to perform his solo atop it. As he ends, he reaches underneath, grabs a hand strap, flips forward and descends to the stage. Finding the case for the glass (actually ice) guitar, the band use their  four keys to open it. Smashing the guitar frees the muse; the band reprises Singring's theme.

Maybe it sounds cheesy, but it was lots of fun.

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