ALBANY Todd Rundgren has worn many musical hats over the years, from experimental progressive rock in Utopia to the electronic experimentation found most recently on his new album, “State.”
During his two-plus hour set Tuesday night before a decent-sized crowd at The Egg’s Hart Theatre, Rundgren stuck primarily to his straightforward rock, pop and soul sides, focusing on material from his heyday in the 1970s and ’80s. Fronting a quintet featuring guitarist Jesse Gress, bassist Kasim Sulton, drummer Prairie Prince and keyboardist John Ferenzik, Rundgren kept the energy high throughout, delivering his quirky material with plenty of soulful edge.
Rundgren started out in full swing, leading his group through “Real Man” to open the show on a rocking note. He continued to preen and prance his way through “Love of the Common Man” while the rest of the band gamely plowed through the song’s changes.
The band’s muscular renditions of these songs kept things moving at a solid pace, but this was Rundgren’s show, and he was more than happy to ham it up. “Buffalo Grass” saw the multi-instrumentalist pick up his guitar for the first time, punctuating the song’s anthemic choruses with the first of several memorable, snarling solos. He continued on guitar for the next two numbers, reaching an early peak on a rough and loose jam of Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman.”
After the upbeat “Determination,” the set hit a lull, with Rundgren proceeding to sit on a stool for the next few numbers. Perhaps all the jumping around in the early part of the set tired him out, but the performances remained strong for the most part. “Lucky Guy” found Rundgren finally unleashing his vocal prowess to its full potential, while the bouncing “Espresso” brought the energy level in the room to a simmer, stool or no stool.
The only disappointment — relatively speaking — came on “Can We Still Be Friends,” which felt a bit tossed off compared to the ferocious performances that followed.
The uproarious “Flaw” was another turning point, with Rundgren savoring the song’s tongue-in-cheek punchline and dirty language. For the first time, it also felt as if the band was finally in on the fun, and this unified spirit continued as Rundgren finally stood up again for “Soul Brother.” A striking medley of slow-burning soul – including the powerhouse “Ooh Baby Baby” – was perhaps Rundgren’s finest moment vocally.
From there, the set continued to build momentum. The introspective “Hawking,” with its winding chord changes and acrobatic melody line, proved a highlight of the entire evening. “I Saw the Light” seemed to suffer from the same lack of interest as “Can We Still Be Friends,” but the performance, while perfunctory, still felt stronger.
The band peaked on the final song of the main set, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You,” with Gress and Sulton briefly joining Rundgren at the front of the stage for some high-kicking, dancing action that earned plenty of laughs — and a standing ovation to end the show on a high note.