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Last of the New Wave Riders (Live at Oblivion Tour)

Utopia

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Album Review

This seven-disc, nearly seven-hour box set contains volumes two, five, six, and nine of Todd Rundgren's Official Bootleg series of live recordings of his solo performances and those of his band Utopia. The four Utopia concerts chronicled here present a reasonably comprehensive history of the band. Taking them in chronological order (which is not the order in which they are presented in the box), first up is Volume Five, Oops! Wrong Planet Tour from 1977, which includes among its 20 selections nine songs from Utopia's fourth album, for which it is named. Oops! Wrong Planet, the second Utopia album to be recorded with the lineup of guitarist Rundgren, keyboard player Roger Powell, bassist Kasim Sulton, and drummer Willie Wilcox was the band's first to move in more of a pop/rock direction, and especially on the second disc of this show their earlier musical focus on progressive rock is still in evidence, particularly in the 34-minute version of "Singing and the Glass Guitar — Utopia Theme" from their third album, RA and the selections from their second album, Another Live. Rundgren's dominance is demonstrated by the inclusion of seven songs that originated on his solo albums. Volume Two, Live in Tokyo '79, by far the most sonically impressive of the concerts, is the only one not tied into the promotion of a specific studio album. But the band clearly is looking forward to the release of their fifth album, Adventures in Utopia, and they introduce two songs, "Love Alone" and "Last of the New Wave Riders," later to appear on that disc. Perhaps because he didn't tour Japan frequently, Rundgren made a point of mixing his solo material with Utopia tracks; while the first disc largely consists of Utopia songs, the second is nearly all solo material, making for a total of 12 Rundgren songs and ten Utopia ones in the show.

Volume Six, Deface the Music Tour, apparently recorded on Halloween, 1980, is dominated by songs from Utopia's sixth album, on which they re-created the styles of mid-'60s pop/rock, as if channeling a lost Beatles' album. Eleven of the 13 songs on Deface the Music are included among the concert's 25 selections, and they don't always sit well stylistically with Utopia's other material. No date is given for Volume Nine, the single-disc Oblivion Tour, but clearly the show comes from 1984, the year that the Oblivion studio album was released. This is the sound of Utopia at its most cohesive as a group; it is the only one of the four concerts that does not feature any Rundgren solo material. The band is still playing a few songs from Oops! Wrong Planet, but the rest of the set dates from the 1980s albums Adventures in Utopia, Utopia, Swing to the Right, and Oblivion. The band rocks hard with an aggressive, new wave edge, leaning toward the synthesizer/drum programming sound of the '80s. Rundgren pulled the plug on the group after only one more album, but the Oblivion Tour CD finds Utopia going out at the top. This box set is obviously intended for the Rundgren/Utopia faithful, not the casual listener. Those committed fans not only won't mind the repetition of repertoire ("Trapped" is played in all four concerts; five other songs turn up in three of the shows; and 11 others get two performances each), they will compare the different versions for subtle (and in some cases not so subtle) differences. There are versions of many Rundgren/Utopia chart singles here — "I Saw the Light," "Couldn't I Just Tell You," "Hello It's Me," "A Dream Goes on Forever," "Can We Still Be Friends," "Set Me Free," "The Very Last Time" — but this is a collection for aficionados, who should be happy to find this material in a package more affordable than the expensive imports of the individual volumes.

Biography

Formed: 1974 in New York, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s

Stardom was handed to him with Something/Anything?, but Todd Rundgren rejected it. He wanted to explore new musical territory instead, and his adventures led him to form Utopia in 1974. Initially, Utopia was a prog rock septet featuring three keyboardists, but as the '70s progressed, the group evolved into a shiny mainstream rock quartet, and Rundgren retreated into the background, as each of his bandmates contributed songs and lead vocals to the albums. By the early '80s, Utopia had developed into...
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Last of the New Wave Riders (Live at Oblivion Tour), Utopia
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