Todd Rundgren proclaimed himself “A Wizard, a True Star,” naming his fourth solo album just that back in 1973, and revealing his well-developed ego in the process.
But he could live up to that self-aggrandizing title with some of the most perfectly-crafted pop songs of the early '70s, slickly produced by the “Runt” himself.
Beautiful three-minute heartbreak ballads like “Hello It's Me” and “It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference” — drawing from a combination of '60s British invasion and Carole King/Laura Nyro singer-songwriter influences — earned him a huge following in the early stages of his solo career.
Meanwhile, his technical skills made him an in-demand producer for acts such as Grand Funk Railroad, Badfinger, the New York Dolls and Meat Loaf.
But Rundgren was beginning to rebel against his mainstream chart successes by the time “Live at Hammersmith Odeon '75” was recorded in London.
He's backed by keyboardist Roger Powell, bassist John Siegler and drummer Willy Wilcox, the lineup known as Utopia, Rundgren's adventurous, techno-centric prog-rock vehicle.
Synth-heavy rockers such as the “Freedom Fighters” and “Mr. Trisquits” were becoming the norm, and the lengthy, spacey instrumental meanderings of the latter were getting commonplace as well, especially in his elaborate, laser-riddled live shows.
Rundgren does dig into his bag of solo gems here and there, providing some mesmerizingly melodic moments on the torchy ballad “The Last Ride,” which is adorned with Rundgren's underrated electric guitar virtuosity and the Philly-soulful backing vocals from future star Luther Vandross and Anthony Hinton.
The rabble-rousing “Heavy Metal Kids” from the same solo album provides a bracing four minutes-plus of rock 'n' roll manna, and the breezily acoustic “The Wheel” is its pleasantly refreshing chaser.
Although this show has its moments, off-key synthesizer scribblings mar the original fun of tunes such as “When the S- - - Hits the Fan/Sunset Boulevard/Le Feel Internacionale” and “Couldn't I Just Tell You,” making this uneven live set an item only the most dedicated Rundgren fan could love.
Stick with the stunning early studio stuff.
— Gene Triplett