Live Review: Todd Rundgren, Davey Lane

27 July 2013 | 8:10 pm | Greg Phillips

His voice is incredibly croaky... Clearly, he shouldn’t be up there tonight. Rundgren blames the cold weather and three gigs in a row for his vocal malfunction.

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Fresh from the 'G, the triumphant Tiger fans are full of cheer at Corner Hotel's cozy front bar. Further inside the venue, on leave from You Am I duties, Davey Lane is presenting a reverb-laden set of atmospheric tunes, showcasing his songwriting skills and a fine collection of guitars. The audience respond politely but seem preoccupied with discussing possible Todd Rundgren setlists and what the US music legend has played at the two Melbourne shows preceding this one.

Despite this being Rundgren's fourth Australian visit in four years, it's actually the first time he's been able to present us with a show full of tunes from his own vast catalogue of pop, soul, electro and prog rock. Earlier this year he played a cameo role as part of Ringo's All Starr band, there was the 2010 Robert Johnson blues tribute tour, and, in 2009, he took part in the Rogues Gallery show at Sydney Opera House singing sea shanties.

Todd's crack band featuring Jesse Gress (guitar), John Ferenzik (keys), Prairie Prince (drums) and Kasim Sultan (bass) stroll on stage 20 minutes late with Rundgren fronting soon after. For a packed house of Rundgren enthusiasts, all the elements seem to be in place for a classic show… all the elements except for one: Rundgren's voice. It's not until the second verse of Real Man from 1975's Initiation album that Rundgren's vocal mic kicks into action. At this point he's probably wishing it hadn't as his voice is incredibly croaky. Nothing a little vocal warm-up shouldn't fix, we hope. He's halfway into second song Love Of The Common Man and it's obvious the man's voice is shot. At Ringo's show months prior, Rundgren's voice was fine and reports from his other Australian gigs suggest it was okay then too. Clearly, he shouldn't be up there tonight. Resorting to age-old stage tricks such as audience sing-alongs and relying on his band to cover him with their sweet harmonies and amazing musicianship, nothing is going to stop this train wreck.

The best tracks are those in which Rundgren sings less: soul tunes such as I'm So Proud and Ooh Baby Bay, where the backing vocals dominate. The crowd is sympathetic and encouraging. Rundgren, who blames the cold weather and three gigs in a row for his vocal malfunction, is appreciative. Where the vocals aren't cutting it, perhaps the electric guitars will as Rundgren and band kick into rock mode. There are glimmers of Rundgren magic but most of it is a struggle. He hacks out an encore of Hello It's Me and ironically finishes with A Dream Goes On Forever, when in reality it's a nightmare. Symptoms of a gruelling winter schedule or symptomatic of an artist at the end of his career? Time will tell.

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