"Welcome, shoppers,!" Todd Rundgren said with a cackle, greeting the crowd two days after Christmas at the Blender Theater in New York. "Tonight's special is" — he paused for a half-second — "in your face!" It was apt warning. Fronting a quintet including his former Utopia bandmate Kasim Sulton, Rundgren jumped into a half-hour of vintage atomic pop — including his 1968 Nazz single "Open My Eyes" and the heavy-Seventies grenades "Love in Action" and "Black Maria" — then started the saturation bombing, playing the whole of his new power-chord celebration, Arena (HiFi), front to back. The album is a bright, bullish return to Rundgren's specialties — paisley-mod punch, Who-ish guitar fireworks and white-soul-boy woe — and this live recital was a close-quarters throwback to the best Utopia shows I saw in the Seventies and early Eighties, minus the sparkling eyeliner, rainbow hair and Egyptology. In fact, Rundgren sings and plays everything himself on Arena, piling up the fuzz and harmonies in the red-alert opener, "Mad," the Second Amendment smackdown "Gun" and the spiritual cockstrut "Mountaintop." But you get it the same way he served it with the band: in your face.
Fricke's Picks: Todd Rundgren's Atomic Arena Rock
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