Utopia Live in Boston 1982
Review by James Graham


"Utopia Live in Boston 1982" - DVD
(Sanctuary Records Group)

This DVD is another fine release from Sanctuary, which has been putting out some of the finest music on CD and video for some time now. This is a must have for the collection of fan's of the power/pop/prog band UTOPIA.

Formed in 1973 by Todd Rundgren the classic line-up had taken place by 1976. In 1982 after a series of ambitious projects and big 70's style concept tours, the band signed a new deal with NETWORK records. The band then went to work on the album that was titled UTOPIA but is also know to fan's as the NETWORK album. Working is style they had been developing for some time most notably on 1980's DEFACE THE MUSIC where they crafted pop gems that owed more than a little to the Beatles, the songs on UTOPIA/NETWORK are pure POP Bliss. By taking chord progressions from Beatle tunes and creating new melody's this method of songwriting foresaw the day when sampling sections of music for another composition has become the norm. This was also in the tradition of the great jazz artists Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie who put their be-bop heads over the changes of familiar pop tunes thus creating classics like A NIGHT IN TUNISIA and DONNA LEE. But I digress, back to the NETWORK album.

As a long time UTOPIA fan I have always looked back fondly on this album and the concerts of that period. Though they wore the Beatlesque suits for the cover and tour, the music was a celebration of all things POP including the Fab 4 but going all over the map in POWER/POP/SOUL. I remember listening to it with some other fans when it came out and some commenting that it didn't have the big UTOPIA anthemic mystical songs, and I think that was the point. Though the mystical, spiritual lyrics can still be found in songs like INFRARED and ULTRAVIOLET, it is the exploration of the short POP song that is investigated.

Which brings to this DVD. This is a snapshot of the tour for the album. As Todd tells us in his interview segment, the record company folded during the tour, which meant no support for the record. Do any of you remember the UTOPIA single on NETWORK? It was called FEET DON'T FAIL ME NOW and was sung by ROGER. The video with them portraying bugs was one of the early videos shown on MTV. This is a great companion DVD to the last Sanctuary UTOPIA release-LIVE IN COLUMBUS -79 which was a full-blown spectacle.

UTOPIA in 82 were playing a stripped down smaller venue tour and this show from Boston finds the quartet in fine form, playing like the well oiled machine they always were. With UTOPIA what you saw was what you got. What we see and hear are songs that were destined to become classics At times the vocals are a little rough but that was part of the charm of the band, no matter how road weary they might have been during a tour, when it was show time they always gave it their all.

The show starts with a song that begins and ends with some cosmic synth by Roger Powell. Roger was one of the pioneers in synthesizer music, working as a consultant to ARP and MOOG, helping program synthesizers for WEATHER REPORT'S I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC and working with Todd from INITIATION through 2nd WIND. Anyone interested in electronic music should seek his 1973 solo album COSMIC FURNACE as well as STAGE by DAVID BOWIE.

This set opener INTRARED AND ULTRAVIOLET always reminded me of the type of Todd song rooted in the REVOLVER era of songs like John Lennon's TOMMOROW NEVER KNOWS. The difference is that instead of backwards tape loops and effects we have Roger letting his synth do the talking. A master of the pitch bend wheel Roger boldly brought lead synthn into POP/ROCK music. Others like Jan Hammer had achieved this in FUSION and of course the 70's PROG scene was centered on keyboards but what Roger achieved in terms of lead and rhythm keyboards as well as his programming abilities and all around great musicianship have always put him in a league of his own.

The second song is actually the first song on the NETWORK album. It's a fine vehicle for Kasim's strong voice called LIBERTINE. It let's us know just as it does on the album that we are in for some catchy and sing able UTOPIA soon to be classics.

Next up is BURN THREE TIMES which always reminded me stylistically of THE BYRDS although it doesn't really sound like them. One of Todd's older tunes comes next, COULDN'T I JUST TELL YOU from SOMETHING/AYTHING is one of the all time classic POWER/POP songs. It usually was played towards the end of UTOPIA set's, by placing it 4th it gives the set a good boost of adrenalin just because it's such a crowd favorite in the midst of tunes that were brand new to the audience of 82.

Staying in familiar mode we are treated to another Kasim showpiece and the only UTOPIA single that charted, the upbeat and soulful SET ME FREE form ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA.

I'M LOOKING THROUGH YOU BUT I'M TALKING TOO MYSELF is delivered by Todd with his priceless gasp of air when he sings the 3rd line as on the album. Todd lets some of his Philly roots come through here along with some Specter influence, it's always been one of my favorite of Todd's introspective/relationship songs and this version is a classic.

Willie Wilcox is up next for the rave up/garage band fun of PRINCESS OF THE UNIVERSE. The fans always loved it when Willie sang and he does not disappoint. This song is a good chance to enjoy the rock solid rhythm section of Willie and Kasim.

The title tune to the previous UTOPIA album SWING TO THE RIGHT is delivered in it's blistering rock/fusion glory. From the middle section's Heavy Metal cocktail jazz interlude to the famous trading of riffs between Todd's blues influenced guitar leads and Roger's Be-Bop on acid lead synth phrases and the timely lyrical content this one gives the goods and is a good example of fine Utopian musicianship.

Another instant Todd classic THER GOES MY INSPIRATION also reminds me of an EVERLY BROTHERS song mixed with more of the mid 60's Lennon vibe. I love how Todd and Kaz sing the verses in unison then switch to harmony for the chorus. It's a tribute to the songs longevity that Todd frequently re-visit's this one in solo concerts.

HAMMER IN MY HEART must be close to Todd's heart as he has brought it back for several tours including the mid 90's INDIVIDUALIST tour and the recent solo Tours. Todd's voice sounds appropriately hoarse and hints at the approach that Todd uses on the song LIARS from his recent album and tour.

CALL IT WHAT YOU WILL is another Kaz lead vocal that also has some funky guitar and a burnin' blues soaked solo by Todd. The background vocals are among the most impressive on this collection as are Kaz's soulful ad-libs on the out chorus.

Many fans will remember the video for YOU MAKE ME CRAZY and you can see it on LIVE IN COLUMBUS, however the song stands on it's own done here with Willie singing from the drum set. He really was one of the best singing drummers around. This song's new wave pop goes over well and the band is really working up a sweat at this point.

The self-contained aspect of UTOPIA kick into high gear now as Kaz moves to guitar. While Roger kicks some funky left hand bass ,Todd puts down the guitar grabs the mike and moves up front for some of his signature dance moves, going back once again to the ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA album for the gospel funk of ROCK LOVE.

Todd talks a little about the single that was about to be released, tells a funny story about their new lead singer Roger, and they do a fine version of FEET'S DON'T FAIL ME NOW followed by the equally a fab version of a song from the NETWORK album that would have fit very well into DEFACE THE MUSIC called SAY YEAH, listen for the guys classic YEAH,YEAH,YEAH, nod to the fab 4.

Going back to OOPS WRONG PLANET Kaz takes control for BACK ON THE STREET, The always-powerful instrumental interlude shows off the band's prog side with some Townsend like power chords From Todd and some nifty arpeggio's by Roger.

Todd introduces the only UTOPIA country song FORGOTTEN BUT NOT GONE, which has some nice guitar pickin' and singin'.

Now it's time for Todd to testify. He is ONLY HUMAN. And so are we, this is one of those Todd songs that gives you that feeling that everything will be okay because we are all in this thing together just trying to find our way. On a musical level, check out the dynamics of the rhythm section. Todd is singing up front again and Roger, Willie, and Kasim lay down a solid Philly soul groove bringing it all the way down before the 3rd verse. This one is for those who also enjoy Todd Soul music like THE LAST RIDE- THE VERB TO LOVE- HAWKING etc.

A couple of classics are next from ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA starting with THE ROAD TO UTOPIA followed by CARAVAN which is a nice vehicle for Wille's inventive drum solo over the ostinato pattern played by the guys. After Willies solo the song climaxes with a classic Synth/Guitar trade off that shows Todd and Kaz in fine form. I always enjoyed the way the classic line-up incorporated elements of the Prog/Fusion sound of the earlier incarnations of UTOPIA into shorter POP songs without sacrificing either the pop sensibility or the virtuosity and musical commitment of the players.

The show closes with the rave up from OOPS WRONG PLANET that has become a Todd Standard LOVE IN ACTION followed by the 60's idealism of ONE WORLD and the ultimate Todd anthem and feel good crowd pleaser JUST ONE VICTORY.

Watch the concert first. When you go over to the extras you can watch interviews with all 4 members of UTOPIA. It is a real treasure chest of info, you will learn a lot about the guys including how each member came into the band. I don't want to reveal much about the interviews but we do learn that Kasim had left and rejoined right before the NETWORK album. This might explain the slight inconsistencies in the match up of lyrics when he and Todd are singing in unison on a couple of the newer songs. That is also part of the beauty of the band, as I said earlier with UTOPIA what you saw and heard was what you got, if there were slight mistakes here and there, that was okay because the music was always heartfelt, inspired and uplifting. This DVD is a perfect reminder of a time when a band of 4 could go out and entertain with to borrow a title from a GRAND FUNK album- Good good'/Good Playin'.