Utopia Live in the USA

For the first time in 32 years, performer/producer Todd Rundgren is reuniting his band Utopia for an extended tour of the United States.

Founded as a progressive septet specializing in synthesizer-heavy, instrumentally-oriented wigouts, Utopia served as both Rundgren’s dedicated live band and an outlet for his more experimental music.  However, as Rundgren’s solo albums kept getting wilder, Utopia went a different way, shedding two of three keyboard players, picking up Kasim Sulton as bassist and co-vocalist, and morphing from the proggy hard rock  of Ra (including the tongue-in-cheek epic “Singring and the Glass Guitar — An Electrified Fairy Tale”) to sleek power pop with cooperative songwriting, tight harmonies and a high-tech sheen.

With Roger Powell on keyboards and Willie Wilcox on drums, Utopia hit a commercial peak on the albums Oops! Wrong Planet (including “Love Is the Answer,” later a pop hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley) and Adventures In Utopia (intended as the soundtrack for a Monkees-like TV series that never happened).   The band’s highest visibility may have been as the backing group for Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell album, which Rundgren produced.

True to Rundgren’s restless musical tastes, Utopia then veered off into the commercial dead ends of Deface the Music (an album of Beatles pastiches) and Swing to the Right (a concept record slamming early Reaganism).   Rundgren’s pioneering video work for the band gained extensive play on the fledging MTV, but the quartet petered out in 1985, only reuniting for a 1992 tour of Japan.

Rundgren, Sulton and Wilcox are on board for this tour, with the now-retired Powell replaced by original keyboardist Ralph Shuckett.  While I’ve seen Rundgren live a couple of times, even getting to crash the stage and play a bongo on “Bang the Drum All Day,” I’ve never caught Utopia in concert.  (My brother, working security at an outdoor amphitheatre one summer, got to work their flashpots while teenage girls rushed the stage.)  Since they’re heading to Grand Rapids in May, I’m strongly inclined to check them out.  No idea what they’ll play — the quartet would indicate a focus on the pop years, but every member has tons of chops, so epics like “The Icon” could be in the offing as well.  Check out Live Nation’s “reunion video” for more info:

Ticket for Todd Rundgren’s Utopia will be available through Live Nation starting this Friday; Rundgren’s Facebook page has additional info on presales & VIP packages.  Tour dates are as follows:

Apr 18, Wed Jim Thorpe, PA – Penn’s Peak
Apr 20, Fri Englewood, NJ – Bergen Performing Arts Center
Apr 22, Sun Houston, TX – House Of Blues
Apr 23, Mon Dallas, TX – Majestic Theatre
Apr 25, Wed Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Au-Rene Theater at Broward Center
Apr 27, Fri St. Petersburg, FL – The Mahaffey Theater
Apr 28, Sat Atlanta, GA – Tabernacle
Apr 29, Sun Durham, NC – Carolina Theater
May 1, Tue Huntington, NY – The Paramount
May 2, Wed Washington, DC – Warner Theater
May 3, Thu New York, New York – Town Hall
May 5, Sat Upper Darby, PA – Tower Theater
May 6, Sun Boston, MA – Orpheum Theater
May 7, Mon Ridgefield, CT – Ridgefield Theater
May 9, Wed St. Louis, MO – Peabody Opera House
May 10, Thu Cincinnati, OH – Taft Theater
May 12, Sat Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theater
May 13, Sun Minneapolis, MN – State Theater
May 15, Tue Grand Rapids, MI – 20 Monroe Live
May 16, Wed Toronto, ON – Massey Hall
May 17, Thu Detroit, MI – The Fillmore
May 19, Sat Cleveland, OH – Hard Rock Live
May 22, Tue Chicago, IL – Chicago Theater
May 24, Thu Denver, CO – Paramount Theater
May 26, Sat Las Vegas, NV – The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
May 27, Sun Phoenix, AZ – Comercia Theater
May 29, Tue Los Angeles, CA – The Wiltern
May 30, Wed San Francisco, CA – The Masonic
June 1, Fri Seattle, WA – Moore Theater
June 2, Tue Portland, OR – Revolution Theater
June 4, Wed Sacramento, CA – Crest Theater
June 5, Tue Riverside, CA – Fox Performing Arts Center

— by Rick Krueger

10 thoughts on “Utopia Live in the USA

  1. Todd the curmudgeon (whom I know and love) certainly keeps going. His 70th birthday is in June, and he’s been touring with Ringo all along. It’d be interesting to see this lineup, since for real the main thing they ever did together pretty much is Adventures In Utopia (which to me was one of their best) and POV and Oblivion. This is not the lineup for the original Todd Rundgren’s Utopia even with Powell. I’d be happy to hear them do Adventures in Utopia album well and you can keep most of the rest of it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kruekutt

      I’ve always thought Rundgren did his best work turning out one classic pop song after another; his experimental stuff has never moved me as much. So if the quartet formation focuses on the pop years (maybe with a bit of Ra on the side), that’d be fine by me. Incidentally, I also heard Kasim Sulton in the Yellow Matter Custard Beatles tribute (with Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse and Paul Gilbert) back in 2011; he filled Sir Paul’s shoes with aplomb, all the way down to the Hofner bass.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, Kas is a decent sideman, has always been one. I was superdisappointed though when a bunch of us cowrote a song with him that he swore would be on his album and it wasn’t.

        Speaking of pop-ish, I loved what Todd did with The Psychodelic Furs album and having himself and Mark Volman (probably Howard too) doing the vocals in the background on Love My Way–what a classic.

        This new incarnation of Utopia should be a great lineup, so we’ll see how it all goes.

        I personally love Jesse Gress, a great guy and a great guitar player who’s been with Todd on and off for a long time now, and who lives near us here near Woodstock NY. I’ll have to look him up again and see if he’s here or who he’s touring with. he was with Todd this last year I believe–I lose track since we’re not all bosom buddies.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I saw Utopia a couple of years back in Boston with a somewhat different line-up. Must not have been a whole tour then. They were great, I would recommend it. Todd mixed up the more far-out early Utopia with the more accessible stuff. And they did do a big chunk of “The Ikon.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kruekutt

      Looks like there was a septet mini-tour in 2011 to defray Moogy Klingman’s medical expenses; he passed away at the end of that year. Sulton just recently played 3 “Kasim Sulton’s Utopia” shows in New York & Pennsylvania; I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind that.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. kruekutt

      “The Ikon” would work well for the Yestival crowd. Not sure if they’ll pull that out for an audience expecting “The Very Last Time” and “Hammer in My Heart,” But we’ll see!

      Liked by 1 person

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