Monday, September 27, 2010


In the Mix: Compression Blues

Jul 14, 2010 4:50 PM, By Steven Wilson

One thing that the history of the human race tells us is that, where technology is concerned, convenience will always win out over quality of experience. But ask yourself this question: If you had the choice, would you rather see the Mona Lisa in the flesh or look at a thumbnail jpeg of it on your mobile phone? And if you’d only ever seen the virtual Mona Lisa, would you really feel honest saying you’d seen it at all?

As we enter the second decade of the MP3 era, it’s a good time to point out that fans of music face a similar dilemma as above. If you’ve only experienced an album as compressed audio files on your iPod, have you really experienced it?

The Internet and cheap computing power have given initiative back to artists by making the act of recording and distributing music available to all. However, the attendant danger is that with the ubiquity of MP3 players, convenience and portability will come to trump sound quality and aesthetic beauty as the measure of what is worth listening to. While the download culture means that perhaps more music is being listened to now than ever before, isn’t this just a hollow victory of quantity over quality? Isn’t there such a thing as an art to listening to music?

I believe so. Anybody who has heard a piece of music properly mixed, mastered, and played back at even standard CD resolution versus that same piece of music as an MP3 will appreciate the chasm between the relative quality of experience. Like making a photocopy of a priceless work of art and then mounting it in a dusty picture frame, compression of music flattens out the nuance and beauty of sound that we work so hard to achieve in our recordings.

More than that, the whole downloading phenomenon cheapens the music, reducing it to the level of mere software. As a teenager, I could only afford to buy one record per month with my pocket money, but you can bet that once I made that difficult decision about which record to invest in, I took it home and devoured it for days, pored over the lyrics and artwork, decoding it to get everything I could from it.

Now, because people can download an artist’s entire back catalog in minutes, they can dismiss it just as easily. If a kid wants to check out Pink Floyd or The Beatles, he or she simply downloads everything (which doesn’t cost a cent), listens to a few tracks, and, because there’s no investment in time, energy, or money, if it doesn’t connect immediately, it likely never gets another chance. But how many albums that you really love did you connect with the first time you heard them? I’m not alone in saying the albums I love the most are the ones that did not connect with me the first time through. But if I’d just downloaded this stuff for free, I probably would never have given any of it a second chance.

As well as a beautiful sonic experience, I want to see the artists carry their aesthetic through to the presentation—if music is art (which I think at least some of it is), then it should be presented as such—with beautiful cover designs, elaborate packaging, special limited editions, and so forth. Yes, these things are more expensive to make and sell, but one thing that experience has taught me is that if you give people something to treasure, they barely even notice the price tag, or that they could probably get the audio for nothing elsewhere if they wanted to.

Make the fans believe that you care about the art and quality, and it’s my belief that they will reciprocate in their buying and listening habits, the care and attention we ourselves have given to creating the music. Before we all lose the art of listening altogether.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Yesterday I posted an article from the New York Times last spring discussing sound quality in music. Below is a response written to the paper by Steven Wilson, best known as the founder, lead guitarist, singer and songwriter of progressive rock band Porcupine Tree. He is involved in many other bands and musical projects both as musician and producer (including No-Man and Blackfield) and also maintains a solo career.

Wilson is a self-taught producer, audio engineer, guitar and keyboard player, playing other instruments as and where required (including bass guitar, concert harp, hammer dulcimer and flute). His most recent production projects include DVD-Audio remixes of the King Crimson catalog, as well as a DVD-A mix of the new Anathema CD.

Without further ado, here is his letter...

To the Editor:

“In Mobile Age, Sound Quality Steps Back” (Business Day, May 10), about the degradation of sound quality in the MP3 era, touches on a central concern for musicians like me, who feel that a song’s chief virtue should not be its ease of portability. There is an art to listening to music, and the move to jukebox-style delivery of songs in MP3 form has largely compromised that art for a generation of fans.

I remember listening to music on vinyl, poring over the sleeve, looking at the lyric sheet, even following the needle across the record.

There was something in that magical, romantic, tactile relationship with the album that has been lost by the reduction of music to content.

Music is not software; music is art. But I’ve been encouraged by the growing revolt against that iPod culture and playlist mentality.

Kids at shows come up to me to have me sign their vinyl.

They want to feel as if they’re buying into something they can cherish and feel a part of. And you simply can’t do that downloading a few files.

Steven Wilson
London, May 11, 2010

Progressive rock couldn’t have been more unfashionable when Steven Wilson formed Porcupine Tree in the U.K. more than 20 years ago. He knew then that the chances of sustaining a career based on prog-rock ideals were pretty slim.

“I started in the ‘80s, which was the worst possible time to make the music I make,” he says. “The idea of guitar solos was anathema, it was outlawed. And here I was making 20-minute pieces with 13-minute guitar solos. So having any degree of success, let alone a fan base, was the furthest thing from my mind.”

And yet Porcupine Tree has not only endured but flourished, with a steadily growing worldwide audience sparked by a series of ambitious albums that blend everything from metal to ambient music.

Wilson knew he wanted to make progressive music since he was a kid, and he remains resolute in pursuing his dream. But his definition of “prog” might surprise some purists. Though he loves originators of the genre such as King Crimson and Yes, Wilson casts a much wider net stylistically.

“Growing up in the ‘70s, I would hear my mother constantly spinning Donna Summer albums produced by Giorgio Moroder, which included 17-minute tracks like ‘Love to Love You Baby,’ ” he says. “And my father listened to [Pink Floyd’s] ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ repeatedly. Those records became my cornerstone.”

He got swept up in music that aspired to push beyond the boundaries of the three-minute pop single.

“People talk about progressive rock as pompous, fussy, obsessed with technique, but the only thing the best progressive rock bands had in common was ambition,” he says. “They risked falling flat on their faces because they were reaching for something beyond the obvious. People like David Bowie and Frank Zappa had that too. Where would Radiohead or Massive Attack be without it? They’re also in the progressive tradition in that like Yes, Pink Floyd or King Crimson, they concentrate on the album as an art form, treat the album as a musical journey that tells a story.”

Wilson has done just that throughout Porcupine Tree’s two-decade output, including the 2009 release, “The Incident,” which includes the 14-part, 55-minute title track.

“The idea was to challenge myself to write music in the way an author writes a novel or a scriptwriter does a movie,” he says. “Start at the beginning and take it to the end in a more linear, narrative way. Allow the story or characters in the story to dictate how the music unfolded. My records growing up had something more than just 10 songs thrown together. There was a vision for something greater and the album became more important than the individual song – that’s what I’m all about.”

Such evolved story-telling needs a listener every bit as intense and committed as the musician who tells it. It’s a crucial relationship between artist and fan, the foundation of progressive rock’s enduring appeal, even as Wilson believes it’s being undercut by advances in technology.

“I do believe there is an art to listening, but it’s being compromised,” he says. “The music media we have is very convenient, the iPod and the MP3, but the quality of experience is quite low.”

“I remember listening to music on vinyl, poring over the sleeve, looking at the lyric sheet, even following the needle across the record. I realize that’s a rose-tinted view, but I do believe there was something in that magical, romantic, tactile relationship with the album. It’s been lost by the reduction of music to content. Music is not software, music is art.”

Porcupine Tree’s steadily growing fan base argues that Wilson isn’t the only one who thinks so.

“It tells me I’m not alone,” he says. “Vinyl sales are rising not just because people my age are feeling nostalgic, but because kids are getting into it.”

“One of the interesting things history tells us is that for every action there is an opposite reaction. And with the current trend toward convenience, there is a reaction against that. People are looking for something more organic and special from music. “

“They come to our shows because they want something with more substance, a bit more epic, something less frivolous than downloading the latest Britney Spears single from MySpace.”

“And it’s not just music, but a general social trend. With this incredible influx of technology, there is a sense of people looking for something more soulful from their lives, something more real. Kids are getting bored with the idea of computers and cellphones. And what do kids do best? They rebel. They rebel against the norm, and the norm is download culture.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Back in May, there was an interesting letter from a musician to the New York Times in response to this article.

First I’ll post the article, with the response to follow.

In Mobile Age, Sound Quality Steps Back

At the ripe age of 28, Jon Zimmer is sort of an old fogey. That is, he is obsessive about the sound quality of his music.

A onetime audio engineer who now works as a consultant for Stereo Exchange, an upscale audio store in Manhattan, Mr. Zimmer lights up when talking about high fidelity, bit rates and $10,000 loudspeakers.

But iPods and compressed computer files — the most popular vehicles for audio today — are “sucking the life out of music,” he says.

The last decade has brought an explosion in dazzling technological advances — including enhancements in surround sound, high definition television and 3-D — that have transformed the fan’s experience. There are improvements in the quality of media everywhere — except in music.

In many ways, the quality of what people hear — how well the playback reflects the original sound— has taken a step back. To many expert ears, compressed music files produce a crackly, tinnier and thinner sound than music on CDs and certainly on vinyl. And to compete with other songs, tracks are engineered to be much louder as well.

In one way, the music business has been the victim of its own technological success: the ease of loading songs onto a computer or an iPod has meant that a generation of fans has happily traded fidelity for portability and convenience. This is the obstacle the industry faces in any effort to create higher-quality — and more expensive — ways of listening.

“If people are interested in getting a better sound, there are many ways to do it,” Mr. Zimmer said. “But many people don’t even know that they might be interested.”

Take Thomas Pinales, a 22-year-old from Spanish Harlem and a fan of some of today’s most popular artists, including Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne. Mr. Pinales listens to his music stored on his Apple iPod through a pair of earbuds, and while he wouldn’t mind upgrading, he is not convinced that it would be worth the cost.

“My ears aren’t fine tuned,” he said. “I don’t know if I could really tell the difference.”

The change in sound quality is as much cultural as technological. For decades, starting around the 1950s, high-end stereos were a status symbol. A high-quality system was something to show off, much like a new flat-screen TV today.

But Michael Fremer, a professed audiophile who runs, which reviews albums, said that today, “a stereo has become an object of scorn.”

The marketplace reflects that change. From 2000 to 2009, Americans reduced their overall spending on home stereo components by more than a third, to roughly $960 million, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group. Spending on portable digital devices during that same period increased more than fiftyfold, to $5.4 billion.

“People used to sit and listen to music,” Mr. Fremer said, but the increased portability has altered the way people experience recorded music. “It was an activity. It is no longer consumed as an event that you pay attention to.”

Instead, music is often carried from place to place, played in the background while the consumer does something else — exercising, commuting or cooking dinner.

The songs themselves are usually saved on the digital devices in a compressed format, often as an AAC or MP3 file. That compression shrinks the size of the file, eliminating some of the sounds and range contained on a CD while allowing more songs to be saved on the device and reducing download times.

Even if music companies and retailers like the iTunes Store, which opened in April 2003, wanted to put an emphasis on sound quality, they faced technical limitations at the start, not to mention economic ones.

“It would have been very difficult for the iTunes Store to launch with high-quality files if it took an hour to download a single song,” said David Dorn, a senior vice president at Rhino Entertainment, a division of Warner Music that specializes in high-quality recordings.

The music industry has not failed to try. About 10 years ago, two new high-quality formats — DVD Audio and SACD, for Super Audio CD — entered the marketplace, promising sound superior even to that of a CD. But neither format gained traction. In 2003, 1.7 million DVD Audio and SACD titles were shipped, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. But by 2009, only 200,000 SACD and DVD Audio titles were shipped.

Last year, the iTunes Store upgraded the standard quality for a song to 256 kilobits per second from 128 kilobits per second, preserving more details and eliminating the worst crackles.

Some online music services are now marketing an even higher-quality sound as a selling point. Mog, a new streaming music service, announced in March an application for smartphones that would allow the service’s subscribers to save songs onto their phone. The music will be available on the phone as long as the subscriber pays the $10 monthly fee. Songs can be downloaded at up to 320 kilobits per second.

Another company,, started selling downloads last year that contain even more information than CDs at $2.49 a song. Right now, most of the available tracks are of classical or jazz music.

David Chesky, a founder of HDtracks and composer of jazz and classical music, said the site tried to put music on a pedestal.

“Musicians work their whole life trying to capture a tone, and we’re trying to take advantage of it,” Mr. Chesky said. “If you want to listen to a $3 million Stradivarius violin, you need to hear it in a hall that allows the instrument to sound like $3 million.”

Still, these remain niche interests so far, and they are complicated by changes in the recording process. With the rise of digital music, fans listen to fewer albums straight through. Instead, they move from one artist’s song to another’s. Pop artists and their labels, meanwhile, shudder at the prospect of having their song seem quieter than the previous song on a fan’s playlist.

So audio engineers, acting as foot soldiers in a so-called volume war, are often enlisted to increase the overall volume of a recording.

Randy Merrill, an engineer at Masterdisk, a New York City company that creates master recordings, said that to achieve an overall louder sound, engineers raise the softer volumes toward peak levels. On a quality stereo system, Mr. Merrill said, the reduced volume range can leave a track sounding distorted. “Modern recording has gone overboard on the volume,” he said.

In fact, among younger listeners, the lower-quality sound might actually be preferred. Jonathan Berger, a professor of music at Stanford, said he had conducted an informal study among his students and found that, over the roughly seven years of the study, an increasing number of them preferred the sound of files with less data over the high-fidelity recordings.

“I think our human ears are fickle. What’s considered good or bad sound changes over time,” Mr. Berger said. “Abnormality can become a feature.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 12, 2010

An article on Monday about the sacrifices in sound quality of audio in compressed computer files misstated the common unit of measurement for the transfer rate for digital audio formats. It is kilobits per second, not kilobytes. The article also rendered incorrectly the name of a New York City company that makes master recordings. It is Masterdisk, not MasterDisk.

I started my blog on MySpace in response to the impending demise of the physical formats for listening to music. In the years since, while the music business has continued it's free fall, vinyl LP sales have increased. It seems that there are still some listeners who want the whole experience (sound quality, cover art, etc).

To be continued....

Friday, September 24, 2010


Before the iPod, there was the CD player.

Before that, there was the cassette tape.

Before that... There was the phonograph.

There are those whose mission is to bring the record back.

Harold Gold and his wife, Max, used to own Fantastic Records in Ardmore. It was a full-service music shop that specialized in old LPs. This was one of the regular haunts of my teenage years, and I sometimes wonder if Harold can remember that annoyking kid with glasses coming in every week asking about a new Todd Rundgren album.

A few years back, on a trip to Philly, I stopped by Plastic Fantastic and found that it had closed. I was sad, almost as if a part of my childhood had died.

I found out a couple of years ago that Harold and Max had resurrected their business in neighboring Bryn Mawr as Gold Million Records. They no longer offer digital music, but their collection of older forms is better than ever.

"We carry no CD's, and no DVD's. But we do carry reels and 8-tracks here. And, of course, vinyl is our specialty," says Harold Gold.

With half a million albums in stock, chances are they have anything you're looking for. They sell online and ship worldwide. What most people see as digital music's improvements, they don't agree.

"Digital music takes out the warmth. It takes out and cleans up all of the imperfections, all the idiosyncrasies of the music. Unfortunately it takes out a lot of what makes the music what it is. People are losing that in the transition."

Gold Million also offers what they call Cool Stuff Made From Records...unique gift items made from actual L-P's and album covers.

"We've created tissue boxes, jewelry boxes, desk accessories, home décor and fashion accessories made from original records."

The Beatles are the shop's number-one sellers, but jazz and classical also do well. And yes, some artists still release on vinyl.

"A lot of the new releases is on a higher-quality, thicker vinyl."

They also have a limited number of high-end music souvenirs like autographed guitars. The shop is at 851 Lancaster Avenue in downtown Bryn Mawr, open Wednesday through Sunday. For more information, phone 610-525-4500, or access their online store at

While I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the store, I am a semi-regular online customer, and recommend them highly.

Monday, September 20, 2010


I'd thought I would sit this one out since I was going to be away. But since I find myself in my hotel room with some time to kill between visiting my folks and some old friends (I better change that to longtime friends sice I'm older!) I thought I would submit an "unplugged" list (the list without much commentary).

STAR TREK (THE ORIGINAL SERIES)  It just isn't Star Trek without Kirk violating the prime directive and chasing a green alien in a skirt!

KOLCHAK:THE NIGHT STALKER Darren McGavin in cheap suits chasinh vampires and werew1olves and endin g up unable to print the truth because he destroyed the evidence!

VEGA$ It doesn't hold up well, but I've still got the hots for Bea!

THE A-TEAM A character study, with deeply introspective scripts and who am I kidding? George Peppard and Dirk Benedict was good casting, Mr. T was a stretch but Dwight Schultz made the show as Murdock. Even in the years where it was getting tired the Murdock character made you laugh.

MAGNUM P.I. A great cast, and a pretty solid series from beginning to end. They did a series finale at the end of the seventh(?) season and came back for another year. That episode should have been held for a year-it's the television equivalent of Warren Zevon's song, "My Ride's Here." It should have been the last word. 

SPENSER FOR HIRE I'd never read Parker's books before the series, but the show made me a lifelong fan. Avery Brooks as Hawk was genius casting. Sadly, RBD died earlier this year, so only two more Spenser books. RIP, Robert B. Parker.

HIGHLANDER Loved the movie and the show was far better than the movie sequels. The second season introduced the secret society of Watchers and kept things interesting, although every time they had a two part episode, part one was riveting and part two was a letdown. I hear they're remaking the original-not sure if that's a good thing.

THE X FILES Chris Carter's show about the government/alien conspiracy. Not to be confused with what is going on in Arizona in 2010...  

SEINFELD The show about nothing was the only comedy of substance!

SUPERNATURAL The 2000's version of Night Stalker, with a great rock music soundtrack and a subplot that sounded silly at first but kind of drags you in. They lose points for going to six seasons when they swore there would only be five.

Runners Up

Alias-La Femme Nikita on steriods, with a big network budget, better scripts, Jennifer Garner (schwing!) and a serialized storyline involving a DaVinci like inventor and centuries-old clues to a mysterious technology.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer-when you stop.laughing, rent season one and see if you don't get hooked.

Firefly-A great space epic, only lasted one season, should have found an audience.

Fringe-an X Files for a new millenium

Battlestar Galactica-the 2000's remake was dark and gritty and worth watching-not the campy seventies version

Alias Smith & Jones-a great western buddy series about two outlaws trying to go straight

The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr.-a blend of western and sci-fi with a lot of tongue in cheek humour, and the beautiful Kelly Rutherford as Dixie.

Quantum Leap-a time travel drama from the creator of Magnum where Scott Bakula tries to right historical wrongs. Great concept, great cast.

24-Even last season manged to keep me on edge-a great action show

Kung Fu-Who knew David Carradine was Chinese?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren will become the new Class of 1963 Wells Professor in late October.

You may ask, "Who is Todd Rundgren?"

Rundgren is a ’70s producer, songwriter, overall rock star and studio wizard, best known for his songs, “Hello It’s Me” from his 1972 album “Something/Anything?” and the party anthem, “Bang the Drum All Day” from his 1983 album, “The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect.”

You may even ponder, "Why is he here?"

Rundgren will join IU faculty as the Class of 1963 Wells Professor in late October. He will give a public lecture, “LONGHAIR: Todd Rundgren on The Beatles Effect,” at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 in Ballantine Hall 013 during Gass’ The Music of The Beatles class. He will conduct a public performance, “CLUSTER: The Birth of the T Chord,” at 8 p.m. Oct. 31 in Auer Hall.

Music professor Glenn Gass is not surprised by the number of blank stares he receives from his students when he announces that Todd Rundgren will be lecturing during class, even though Rundgren is considered one of 1970s most successful rock stars.

But the ’70s producer, songwriter, overall rock star and studio wizard will be joining the IU faculty as the Class of 1963 Wells Professor in late October. Rundgren is the ninth person to have this prestigious position.

Gass said Rundgren is well qualified to talk about The Beatles because he’s done many covers and tributes associated with the band. He has also toured with Ringo Starr, worked with George Harrison, knows Paul McCartney and worked on and off with John Lennon in the ’70s.

Rundgren is best known for his songs, “Hello It’s Me” from his 1972 album “Something/Anything?” and the party anthem, “Bang the Drum All Day” from his 1983 album, “The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect.”

“He had fame handed to him on a silver platter and he gave it up to do his own thing, like producing,” Gass said. “I’m not surprised that a 20-year-old college student wouldn’t know him until you play his biggest hits.”

During his gig as a professor, Rundgren will make two public appearances on campus. The first will be a public lecture, “LONGHAIR: Todd Rundgren on The Beatles Effect,” at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 in Ballantine Hall 013 during Gass’ The Music of The Beatles class.

Sophomore Brittany Tempest, who is enrolled in Gass’ Beatles course said she is excited about having the opportunity to hear Rundgren lecture during class.

“Todd Rundgren is pretty much my hero,” Tempest said. “He’s been through it all, he’s not an outsider looking in. He’s lived it. He really knows what he’s talking about.”

Rundgren’s other public appearance will be at 8 p.m. Oct. 31 in Auer Hall where Rundgren will give a public recital entitled, “CLUSTER: The Birth of the T Chord.”

Both events will seat about 400 people and will be free and open to the public.

Gass said Auer Hall will be a great setting to see Rundgren perform.

“It’ll be just him, a guitar and maybe a piano,” Gass said. “He has a spectacular voice. I was stunned with his voice; he didn’t change the key or anything during his [Clowes Memorial Hall] performance.”

Gass is referring to Rundgren’s recent performance at Butler University’s Clowes Memorial Hall on Sept. 11.

Butler senior Jackie Gredell, a member of the Jordan Jazz vocal ensemble, shared the stage with Rundgren during parts of the second half of his show.

“When I found out we were singing back up for him,” Gredell said, “I googled him and found out that he sang ‘Bang the Drum All Day’ and ‘Hello It’s Me,’ which are very popular songs, so I was excited.”

Rundgren and a full band performed each and every song from 1974s “Todd” album and 1981s “Healing” as well as an ending with audience participation on the song “Sons of 1984.”

“The Butler concert showcased his back catalogue, which shows his depth,” Gass said. “Healing was perfect for 9/11. Him, the band, the choir, the students really nailed it. It was great.”

The four-week Wells Scholar course, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren: Musical Journeys of a Lifetime, will be instructed by Rundgren, Gass and contributing faculty; Bernice Pescosolido, distinguished professor and chancellor’s professor of sociology and Nick Toth, professor of anthropology and co-director of the Stone Age Institute.

Director of the Wells Scholars Program Tim Londergan had the final say in bringing Rundgren to IU.

“Todd’s here for two weeks. Those weeks are framed for him to prep students for an understanding of his background,” Gass said.

Gass met Rundgren through the friendship that his sons had made with Rundgren’s nephew who lived next door during Gass’ year-long sabbatical in Hawaii. Only then was Gass able to approach Rundgren.

“We got to know their family. They always had them [our kids] over at ‘Uncle Todd’s,’” he said. “I had been trying to get in touch with him as the rock teacher trying to talk to Todd Rundgren, but was never able to.”

Depauw’s Executive Director of Media Relations Ken Owen, who is a Rundgren fan and scholar, invited Rundgren to speak at DePauw in April 2009.

“Todd wasn’t sure if he would enjoy lecturing, but he went, and he enjoyed it,” Gass said. “So I mentioned that we had to get him to IU, and we did with endowments from the Class of 1963.”

As to what Rundgren will be teaching, Gass said Rundgren is keeping that to himself.

“He’s got great stories to tell. Musicians are sometimes more comfortable talking about someone else they admire and who influences them versus their own music,” Gass said.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Well it was back on the road, this time to Downey (California) for the premeire of the Spock's Beard tour.
Long time proggers Spock's Beard have recently released their 10th studio album, appropriately titled "X", to critical acclaim, and are launching a European tour in support of it, but due to economic factors were not planning any shows in the US. CalProg could not let that happen, arranged for the Beard to launch the tour from the stage in Downey.

Since the show was in California, and since we seemed to both share an affinity for progressive music, I decided at the last minute to send off an e-mail to Arlee Bird of "Tossing It Out" fame asking him if he was anywhere near Downey and if so, would he be interested in seeing the show. To my surprise, when the trusty Pontiac Sunfire rolled into the parking lot of the Downey theater (without any mechanical complication on the six hour drive), I had a couple of messages from Arlee, so we arranged to meet.

Arlee met me about an hour before the show (and hopefully did not mind that I scarfed a sandwich in front of him). Just like his blog persona, he is the nicest chap you'd want to meet. I was a litte concerned he might not like the show, but he appeared to enjoy it (the band are all excellent musicians and seem to enjoy themselves on stage).

Alan Morse was prowling the lobby before the show. As some of you may remember, I drove out for the Beard CD release party in May, and Alan asked me, "Are you insane?"

When I pointed out I'd driven from Phoenix for the show, he quipped, "You're still insane!"

Hardly. These guys get the second most CD spins in my players (after Todd) and they've not played Phoenix in eleven years. So what's a few hours in the car?

After the show the band graciously signed CD's etc (even though they were leaving early in the morning for Europe. For the four hundred or so fans in attendance, this was a real treat. For any prog fans in the LA area who did not attend-shame on you! If we don't support live music, all we're going to be left with is Lady GaGa!

I've posted a setlist below. They played the entire new CD, plus some old favorites. Amazon shows that they'll have the new disc in stock at the end of September-any prog fans should get the disc (or buy it now from the band site

They can use the support, and the album deserves to be heard-it's really that good!


Edge of the In-Between
The Emperor's Clothes
From the Darkness
The Quiet House
The Man Behind the Curtain
Jaws of Heaven

On a Perfect Day
The Doorway

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


For the second straight Labor Day weekend, downtown Akron, Ohio suffered an invasion of Todd Rundgren fanatics, swarming into the Akron City Centre hotel and mobbing the hotel meeting rooms and bars until the wee hours of the morning, returning a few hours later to overdose on coffee to try to get their hearts started.

Saturday was the Rundrgen Radio birthday party, celebrating the three years of the blog talk radio program that has allowed the Rundgren fan network to stay connected to each other and the man himself.

Coming from Arizona, it took me most of the day to get there, but once again I found the entire hotel staff to be in the spirit of things, wearing specially designed Todd shirts (that some fans were literally buying off of the staffs’ backs for upwards of fifty bucks). The party was in full swing when I got there, with the three mammoth birthday cakes being cut as I walked in (if they sang Happy Birthday to Doug and Mel I missed it).

I’d brought along a Todd jacket that I’d purchased sometime during the year that did not fit (too much cake last year, I guess), but that the fine folks at Café Press told me to give to another fan when they refunded my purchase price.

Give it a fan I did-I ran into Corky almost immediately, who had been kind enough to front me a Diet Coke last year at the Kasim performance (I was jonesing for caffeine), and it looked like a good fit, so the jacket found a home!

I immediately took up the spare room in my suitcase with tee shirts from the various merchandise tables. Todd’s table was run by his son so I felt that two tee shirts, the live CD box and a DVD pre-order were the least I could do to help with his college costs. I also met Bill Bricker, a fan who I’ve known by name for the better part of three decades but have not had occasion to meet before.

The Kasim show on Sunday afternoon was similar to last year’s in style and setlist. Kasim is a great performer, and it is easy to see why he has had so much success as a sideman for Meat Loaf and Joan Jett (among others). Oh, and let’s not forget the thirty-some years on and off with that Rundgren feller…

And the main event…the band started with “Todd” and played it through until “Don’t You Ever Learn” before breaking. The stage production was not as elaborate as last year, but I think that the music came off a lot better.

The album is simply more accessible than AWATS, with less “what was he on” moments in the mix. Surprisingly, the music holds up, except for some of the synthesizer parts, which while they must have seemed revolutionary in 1973 can be programmed by a pre-schooler today.

“In And Out Of The Chakras We Go” was skipped (the album version was played after the curtain went down for the night) while “Sons Of 1984” was saved for the finale.

“Healing” would have been my album choice last year, since Todd never really did tour it, although I wondered how the second side “Healing” suite would come off live. After a half hour intermission, the band came out in different costumes. Opening with “Healer,” the band was flanked by a local choral group who reproduced Todd’s layered background vocals from the record. The group made several trips to the stage, and their use is the production was extremely creative.

After running through side one of the album, and “Tiny Demons,” the b-side of a single packaged with the original album, the band launched into the second side of the album, a twenty-minute progressive piece about the healing power of music.
This piece was Rundgren’s most creative of the night, as he blended the musicians and the choir to produce a performance that (in my opinion) was far superior to the album.

Next up was “Time Heals,” the a-side of the aforementioned single, with a claim of fame of being either the second or the eighth video played on MTV (depending on who you read).

Then a brief break, and the band and choir returned for “Sons Of 1984.” The audience sang along (of course), and Rundgren Radio had prepared a little “surprise” for Todd-sheets of paper with the song lyrics in various colors were placed on the audience chairs, and when the audience held them up as the band returned for the encore, they saw a collage of various “Utopian” symbols and Todd’s name.

All in all, a great show-hopefully a video release is planned (although there were no cameras there that night). A webcast is being done of the Philly show.

The band:

Jesse Gress
Greg Hawkes
Prairie Prince
Todd Rundgren
Bobby Strickland
Kasim Sulton

THERE’S STILL TIME!!! If you live near any of these venues, you really ought to consider attending-the show is well worth the price of admission!

9/08: Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts
Muskegon, MI

9/10: Roberts-Orpheum Theatre (with special guests the Fixx)
St. Louis, MO.

9/11: Clowes Memorial Hall (with special guests the Fixx)
Indianapolis, IN

9/14: Keswick Theatre
Glenside, PA near Philadelphia

9/15: Mayo Center for the Performing Arts
Morristown, New Jersey

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tour organizers like Ohio fan base, venue

Todd Rundgren will perform his albums Todd (1974) and Healing (1981) on Sunday night at the Akron Civic Theatre.

The music industry may be wheezing and gasping, watching album sales plummet as listeners download a song or two (legally) rather than buy entire albums. But while the attention span of the average young listener seems to be shortening, many veteran artists with deep catalogs are finding their fans not only still listen to albums, but they also want to see them performed in their entirety.

The trend has taken hold across genres, from indie rockers such as The Pixies to hip-hoppers like Public Enemy, and, of course, classic rockers are reaping the benefits of fans hungry to be transported back to the album era.

Singer/songwriter Todd Rundgren has hopped on the bandwagon with encouragement from his dedicated and well-organized fan base. In 2009, Rundgren debuted a weird and wonderful ''theatricalization'' of his album A Wizard, a True Star (1973) at the Akron Civic Theatre, featuring 12 costume changes, films and slides. On Sunday, Rundgren returns to perform two albums: Todd (1974), the follow-up to AWATS, and Healing (1981).

The albums were chosen by Rundgren's fans and the tour was organized by online fanzine, once again premiering at the Civic. The folks at say they returned to Akron in part because of the strong Ohio fan base for Rundgren as well as the venue, nearby hotels and the general love for all things Runt.

The albums are two of the many stylistic landmarks in Rundgren's 40-plus-year career. Todd followed the dizzy, dense, metaphorical middle finger to the ''Rundgren as the male Carole King'' notion that was AWATS, and in some ways is even musically wilder and more adventurous than its predecessor. Healing, released seven years and four albums after Todd, was a synthesizer-heavy, insular, mostly calm musical meditation with a three-part suite at its center.

Both albums contain a few longtime concert staples, including A Dream Goes on Forever, The Last Ride and Don't You Ever Listen from Todd, and the R&B/pop-flavored early MTV hit Time Heals and the ominous Tiny Demons, both from Healing but packaged as a separate 7-inch in the original vinyl edition to make up for the lack of a single on the album. But much of Healing has never been performed.

Fans will also get a rare look and listen to some of the oddities on Todd, such as the Gilbert and Sullivan-inspired An Elpee's Worth of Toons, as well as the actual Gilbert and Sullivan-written Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song, plus straight-ahead rockers Everybody's Going to Heaven/King Kong Reggae and No 1. Lowest Common Denominator.

For Rundgren, these ''entirety'' shows obviously make picking a set list easy, and also allow him to see just what records mean the most to his fans.

Here is a Q&A with Rundgren from his Hawaii home shortly before the band was to start rehearsals for the tour.

Q: Were you surprised that fans chose ''Healing'' as opposed to one of your more popular albums?

A: It was kind of a surprise,because you always expect Something/Anything? [featuring the oft-covered soft rock hit Hello, It's Me]. But AWATS was kind of a dividing point in my fan base. A lot of people never got past that; they got up to Something/Anything? and then they kind of couldn't endure the weird music that came after that. And in that sense they are completely unfamiliar with what happened after that, and may only remember me in the vaguest terms.

But the hard-core fans are the ones who actually survived that transition and came to realize that is actually the ride you're in for. I'm not going to do two albums in a row that are exactly the same. There is some evolution and sometimes revolution [ha, ha, ha] between records and that I think is essentially what my current audience expects, and that's why they don't ask for something obvious like Something/Anything?

Q: They are very different albums. You seem to have been in very different head spaces during their recording.

A: Yes, it's a small challenge to make them co-exist, but I think they don't contradict each other. One [Todd] is one end of a big kind of upward curve of me getting weirder and more out there, and you could say that the other is essentially the diametrical side of that curve. Of me almost creating order instead of disorder. I wouldn't say it's a conservative record, but trying to do some very precise things with the music, tell a story that has some coherence on one side and create a musical experiment on the other side and musical mediation, or something like that. You could say that Healing is a very purposeful record.

Todd is the record that essentially goes even further than A Wizard, a True Star in some ways. A Wizard, a True Star is an unordered jumble of ideas and at the same time, it still has a fairly consistent instrumentalization about it. And by the time we got to Todd, we had gotten more daring about the hardware, keyboards and drum machines and things like that. And so it was to my mind a more radical record than even AWATS was, in that I took a lot of those small ideas and developed them, and the results sometimes were very peculiar and sometimes very pedestrian.

Q: When you first listened to the albums again, what memories of the era did it bring back?

A: What was I on? [Laughs.] was kind of ''on'' the same things as AWATS. But also the first successful iteration of [his pop/rock band] Utopia is happening at the same time.

In terms of the way it was performed, it was kind of a step back to Something/Anything? in that I did a lot of it myself. I was playing drum parts and only on a few tunes did I use another drummer. I was kind of offloading the ensemble music onto the Utopia concept and I was getting back into something that was a little more insular and personal in the studio.

It was a chance to be in some ways even more daring with stuff that was kind of new and unfamiliar like synthesizers. We were experimenting with drum machines, which had been around but were getting more sophisticated. By the time we got to Todd, it was our official playpen and we had gotten things under control a bit, which meant we could get more out of control with it. We understood our working environment a little better and made more sophisticated use of it.

That's where my head was at, in a state of total freedom. I could do essentially whatever I wanted. I was making more and more money off productions I did for other people and so I was making the music that I purely felt like making.

Q: Then you get to ''Healing,'' and it's very focused and has gravitas and an overriding theme. It's seems like a serious record. Where were you at that time?

A: It's a more serious record though there are some unserious moments, like Golden Goose. Essentially, I had gotten to a point of psychic exhaustion, that I had pushed myself so hard for such a long time in terms of trying to expand my consciousness and my musical range that I got to a point where I had gotten almost sick from it. Not literally but psychically exhausted and enervated, and needed to collect myself in a way and to look at my experience in a different context.

I wanted to clarify some of the feedback about what effect my music was having on other people as well. When you start to write anthems and things like that, it appeals to a different thing in people than the typical love song. Love songs conjure up reminiscences and things like that, and more anthemic themes or themes about the nature of consciousness and stuff like that tend to give people a more hopeful aftertaste. They start to get aspirational rather than reminiscent. So I had to kind of confront and resolve in my music the effect it was having on other people.

The album itself is a story on one side and a musical experiment on the other side. And the context of the first side is supposed to be open to interpretation as all tales are, but I have my own idea of what it's supposed to mean. I don't want to spoil it for everyone else, but I needed to make some clarification, in whatever poetic or oblique terms, of how I saw myself, how I saw the possibilities of music and how reality plays into all of that.

It isn't any easier to explain than sort of the craziness of Todd [laughs]. The [musical] possibilities are greater than I assumed they were and that some of these realizations have been cannibalized by various drugs and things like that [laughs again]. None of that makes me a drug addict; it just keeps widening horizons for me. And then at a certain point, I realize that I have widened the horizon, but I have given myself so much area now to cover, it all is going to be completely exhausting, so I have to start narrowing in or focus on certain things. Essentially pull back, reorganize.

At a certain point you've said what you have to say about it and to continually harp on it is a lack of growth. It was definitely a turning point and something I needed to do for myself to get ''healthy'' and to get into a proper frame of mind, to where I wasn't feeling confused and somewhat overwhelmed by the possibilities I'd created.

Q: With two albums to perform, will you be skipping the ''theatricalization'' concept?

A: The approach will not be like A Wizard, a True Star. We've actually made the band smaller, removing a keyboard. But I will pick up the slack in some songs by actually playing the piano, which I never do anymore. So, only for the sake of these shows will I play piano.

But it is going to be something that — as the last show was — should be beyond people's expectations. So if last year was the greatest show on Earth, this should be the greatest show on Earth part two [laughs].

Q: Are you all going to sing [anthemic album closer from ''Todd''] ''Sons of 1984'' together?

A: I think that's a given, isn't it? Since it's on the record, I have to perform it and I can't stop people from singing it. So I might as well encourage it [laughs].

It Won't Be Long....

9/05: Akron Civic Theatre, Akron, OH

Tickets on sale NOW at
Prices start at $25.

Sons of 1984

Open your eyes and see
The world I couldn't change for you
Reach out your hand and take
The world that will belong to you

We were on our way to a better day
And the spirit was in us all
But as time went by we fell by the wayside
Maybe you'll be the last to fall

You are the only ones
There is nobody left but you
You are the chosen ones
There is nobody else to choose

Back when I was young, my hope was strong
But the time blew it all to hell
If I thought I knew what was good for you
I would have gone and done it for myself

Worlds of tomorrow
Life without sorrow
Take it because it's yours
Sons of 1984

I can still see the great panorama of hate
Being cleansed by our loving hands
But the brothers broke stride, the sisters cried
Now you have to start all over again

Wednesday, September 1, 2010