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Columns > Dean Budnick - From the Editor

Published: 2013/10/29
by Dean Budnick

Todd Todd for Halloween

While this appears on, I figure I might as well make my pitch here as well…

First off, let come right out and say this: Phish is not going to dip into Todd Rundgren’s back catalog to perform his 1974 double album Todd at Boardwalk Hall on Thursday night.

But to me that’s not quite the point here. Don’t worry, we still have a few days left for speculation, so I imagine we’ll likely have time for passionate pitches as to why Phish can or will play albums by Springsteen, Elton John, Radiohead, Hendrix, The National, The Allman Brothers Band, TV on The Radio, etc. However, I view this forum as a setting to make a case for why Phish should play a particular album, not if they will play it. Plus, if you’re not all that familiar with Todd Rundgren or Todd then I see this brief essay as something of a mitzvah.

Here’s the thing…everyone has their headphones album. For many of you it was Dark Side, for Trey Anastasio himself it was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Will they cover it that this year? My gut says no). For my group of friends living out in the sticks of Rhode Island it was Todd Rundgren’s Todd. This was the album that we would listen to with the lights switched off on the shag rug with our heads propped up on the pillows we dragged over from that fancy couch in the living room we were never supposed to enter.

Todd Rundgren, like Phish, is an iconoclast, someone who has pursued his own muse from album to album (which also has held true during his producing career which includes The Band’s Stage Fright, the New York Dolls’ self-titled debut, Grand Funk’s We’re An American Band, Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell and XTC’s Skylarking along with some Shaun Cassidy thrown into the mix as well as Badfinger’s Straight Up, which includes “Baby Blue,” the song that appeared in the closing scene of Breaking Bad). He’s flirted with the mainstream via “Hello It’s Me,” which some of you may know from its presence in a K-Tel Records television commercial during the 1970’s. Others are likely more familiar with “Bang the Drum All Day,” a tune played during timeouts across the NBA and after the Green Bay Packers score a touchdown (Rundgren later reimagined the song as “Bang On the Ukulele Daily” after he relocated to Hawaii). “Bang the Drum” appeared on his 1982’s album The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, a suitable album title if ever there were one. Of course, Todd being Todd, he followed up this release with 1985’s A Cappella, a recording that consisted solely of tracks created from Rundgren’s vocals (long before anyone could initiate such an effort through readily accessible digital technology). A Cappella also contained a track that some of you may recognize, as Uncle Jesse himself, Mr. John Stamos, sang “Hodja,” a Rundgren original from the album, with a vocal group on an episode of Full House (one of the Olsen twins really seemed to dig it).

Ultimately, Todd Rundgren’s music is ideally suited to Phish due to a shared sensibility. Rundgren’s blend of pop, psychedelic and prog is similarly manifested in the sounds of the Vermont quartet. So will this be the year that Phish perform Todd’s Todd? Of course not but let’s play our game…

Why They Might Do It: The album is tailor-made for Phish. Stephen Thomas Erlewine has characterized it as “an impenetrable double album filled with detours, side roads, collisions and the occasional pop tune.” Sound familiar? Oh yes and did I mention that the sixth song and lone cover is “Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare” from Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 opera “Iolanthe”? Beyond that the release runs a gamut of styles and includes a sublime ballad (“A Dream Goes on Forever”), your quintessential made-for-Fishman oddity (“An Elpee’s Worth of Tunes”), plenty of room for Mike’s bass along with a vocal turn on “Everybody’s Going to Heaven/King Kong Reggae,” a range of instrumental interludes with such titles as “The Spark of Life” “Drunken Blue Rooster” and “In and Out the Chakras We Go (Formerly: Shaft Goes to Outer Space)” and it all comes to a rousing close with “Sons of 1984” (chorus optional). Plus, while I’m unsure about the status of that Boardwalk Hall pipe organ, if it’s up and functional it would be well suited for many of the 17 tracks on Todd. What’s more, Rundgren could wield an axe as well (he still can) so there are plenty of opportunities there.

Why They Won’t Do It: Well, they just won’t. I can’t remember hearing a member of band credit Rundgren as an influence. Having said that I have to believe they have some familiarity with Todd, if not Todd, having likely watched the same K-Tel commercials that I did, growing up in the Northeast, juxtaposed with those Harry Hood claymation ads…

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