Sound Check: Todd Rundgren keeps coming back

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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American musician Todd Rundgren performs during the "Festival di Sanremo" Italian song contest, in San Remo, Italy, Feb. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Alberto Pellaschiar)

Singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren has been a very popular figure ’round these parts for decades, and around 660 fans will get an opportunity for a double shot of Runt jamming in Summit County in the ’13.

I say only 660 fans get to see Rundgren twice because Tuesday’s show at the intimate Kent Stage is (of course) already sold out and those folks will be getting a very different show than the few thousands who will pack the Akron Civic Theatre when Rundgren returns in August.

Rundgren is touring behind his new album State, which, as has often been the case with Rundgren’s lengthy catalog, is a very different album than his previous album of new studio material — the kind of angry-in-your-face, guitar-driven Arena from 2008. By contrast, State includes a bit of the expansiveness of Utopia (the eight-minute opener Imagination) and synth-heavy solo albums such as Healing. State finds Rundgren further indulging his technology fetish with an album driven by the bleeps, blorps and bloops of laptop electronica and a lyrical dash of his humor in tunes such as Ping Me, Angry Bird and the downright goofy dance-rock tune Party Liquor.

The tour just started on Tuesday in Woodstock, but local fans hoping to sway to yet another live take on Hello, It's Me or I Saw the Light may have to let those expectations go. As his fans know, Rundgren will do what Rundgren will do when he feels like doing it (unless you can afford to pay him to do it sooner) and the opening night set list was heavy on tracks from State and other recent synth-driven albums including 2004’s Liars and 1993’s No World Order.

Rundgren’s August show at the Akron Civic Theatre, brought to us once again by, should be a unique experience even for the dedicated Runt fan as the Wizard and True Star and his band (Kasim Sulton, Prairie Prince, Jesse Gress, John Ferenzik and singers Mary Lou Arnold and [wifey] Michelle Rundgren) will perform with the Akron Symphony and Akron Youth Orchestra.

The “Rundgren Pops” format (I just made that up, feel free to use it) is a fairly new one for Rundgren as he’s only performed a few shows with the Dutch Metropole Orchestra in Amsterdam in 2011 and 2012 and a couple with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra also in 2012. But when Rundgren plays Akron, the show will feature something new as he has never performed with two orchestras on the same stage, and it’ll be his first time jamming with a youth orchestra.

Though the arrangements will obviously be different, the set list for the Dutch Metropole shows (whose charts the other orchestras have been using) contains a few more fan favorites including Hello, It’s Me; I Saw the Light; and Can We Still Be Friends, along with a variety of album cuts from several eras that lend themselves to orchestral/big band arrangements such as Bag Lady, Another Life and a few tunes from his late ’80s/early ’90s albums 2nd Wind, the popular Nearly Human and A Capella. (I’d still like to hear him do the latter album in its entirety at the Civic).

If you’d like a sneak approximation of what you'll see in August, there is a website featuring a crowd-sourced, multicamera video of one of the entire performances with the Metropole Orchestra at
html. It’s pretty sweet.

Random acts of live music

• Arguably the hardest working man in local show bidness, Ryan Humbert, will perform in a duo with Erin Vaughn on Saturday night at the Wing Warehouse in Stow.

• Hardcore/metal fans will want to head to the basement of Akron Highland Square mainstay Annabell’s Bar & Lounge on Friday to spend an evening with veteran Cleveland hardcore band Ringworm.

The quintet, anchored by singer Human Furnace along with guitarists Matt Sorg and John Comprix (who also collaborates with Ripper Owens), drummer Danny Zink and bassist Ed Stephens, began plying its ferocious muscular trade around 1991. Ringworm released its debut album Promise in 1993 and toured for several years before grown-up stuff such as Human Furnace’s chain of successful tattoo shops forced it to take a break.

The band returned in 2001 with its third album, Birth Is Pain, and began touring the world with Hatebreed and Damnation AD.

The band’s most recent album was 2011’s Scars, featuring the band's patented mix of scream/shouted hardcore vocals and call-and-response choruses on top of traditional trash-metal tropes such as double-kick-drum grooves and speedy chunka-chunka riffs and some cool, classic metal guitar harmonies.

I honestly can only pick up about every eighth word Human Furnace screams at me, but song titles such as Voluntary Human Extinction, Used Up, Spit Out and Hellbound should give you an idea of the lyrical subject matter, and it ain’t unicorns and puppies, folks.

The band also has a live album released in 2012 and is recording a new album to be released in the fall on well-known metal label Relapse Records. Ringworm isn’t trying to reinvent the hardcore/metal wheel, but it is kicking the current model down the heavy-metal highway with considerable force.

Also on the bill are Akronites FEDS, NRR from Toledo and Gasmask. It should be one of those loud and intense shows where you’re not sure if you’re sweating profusely or if it’s just your eardrums bleeding.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmxabram.

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