Todd Rundgren - guitar, keyboards, vocals
Roger Powell - keyboards, vocals
Kasim Sulton - bass, vocals
John Wilcox - drums, vocals
When he Vietnam War ended, a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions began. Fleeing communist rule, an exodus of Indochinese refugees began, that by 1977 had escalated to a steady stream of 21,000 refugees fleeing per year in rickety boats with no place to go. By 1978, a flood of 100,000 refugees were fleeing per year, and daily media coverage of the thousands of "boat people" floundering and often dying in the South China Sea shocked the world. Then in February of 1979, China invaded North Vietnam, making the situation infinitely worse than it already was. In retaliation, the Vietnamese government instituted moves to rid the country of all ethnic Chinese, regardless of whether they were farmers, fisherman, capitalists, or communists, and in the process created more than a million more refugees. Countless fleeing refugees perished and those who now managed to reach the Southeast Asian shores were told they couldn't stay. The media exhaustively reported on the hopelessness of the situation and sent out pleas for potential resettlement countries, like Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and France for desperately needed help.
In May of 1978, New York City's Palladium hosted a benefit concert featuring Todd Rundgren solo in an effort to raise awareness of the boat people's plight and to help raise funds to help in the resettlement efforts. Days after the February 1979 China invasion of North Vietnam, two additional benefit concerts were presented at the Palladium, billed as the "Indochinese Refugee Concerts." Big Apple favorites, Blue Oyster Cult and Todd Rundgren & Utopia, headlined the events, and they invited punk poet/songwriter Patti Smith, former New York Doll's frontman David Johansen, and guitar slinger Rick Derringer to join them as guest performers on the late show. The King Biscuit Flower Hour recording team was on hand for both 1979 concerts, and choice highlights were broadcast on their weekly program later that year.
Here we present the Todd Rundgren & Utopia performance from the late show that evening in its entirety. Drawing on a variety of material from Rundgren's best work of the 1970s, this performance vacillates between the melodic pop, rock, and soul inflected material of his most popular album, 1972's Something/Anything, through the progressive rock tendencies of his most accessible work with Utopia, particularly that group's fourth album release, Oops! Wrong Planet.
The set kicks off with a triple dose of standout songs from that fourth Utopia album, beginning with the hard rocking progressive power-pop of "Trapped" and "Love In Action," followed by the more funk influenced "Abandoned City." The next two numbers, "Love Of The Common Man," from Rundgren's 1976 LP Faithful and "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference," from Something/Anything, display the catchy melodic pop at the heart of Rundgren's best work. Although Rundgren often played every instrument, sang, engineered, and produced much of his earlier material, Utopia prove themselves more than capable of bringing these highly evocative songs to life onstage, and throughout this performance, the musicianship is top-notch.
A pair of hard driving rockers is up next, with "The Death Of Rock And Roll" from Utopia's 1975 album, Initiation, followed by "Gangrene," another number from Oops! Wrong Planet. While "Gangrene" is a rather silly and undistinguished exercise, "The Death Of Rock And Roll" is a pile driver that addresses critical rejection and features fine musicianship, particularly from bassist Kasim Sulton. The group next returns to the catchy melodic pop of "Can We Still Be Friends," the hit from Rundgren's solo album the previous year, Hermit Of Mink Hollow.
The musicians next cruise into a vamp, while Rundgren delivers a sarcastic Zappa-esque intro monologue to the blazing blues-based "Black Maria," featuring Rundgren's most sizzling and demented guitar work of the evening. This is a tour-de-force performance, and Rundgren further delights the audience by bringing out guitar-slinger Rick Derringer to join in for the remainder of the set. Derringer plugs in and immediately rips into a sizzling solo to make sure his equipment is working and then the entire band launches into the "Louie, Louie" influenced hit by Derringer's mid-1960s band the McCoys, "Hang On Sloopy." This is an infectious delight that, despite its inherent simplicity, has the group cranking away and features plenty of Derringer's blazing fretwork. Rundgren asks Derringer to stay and help out on the conclusion to the set, which he does, as the musicians soar into the proto-power pop of "Couldn't I Just Tell You," another classic from Something/Anything.
This leaves the New York City audience howling for an encore. When Rundgren and Utopia return to the stage, they give the audience exactly what they want, performing two of Rundgren's most memorable melodies, first with the heart-wrenching pop ballad "Hello It's Me" and wrapping things up with the evocative anthem-like "Just One Victory," from 1973's A Wizard, A True Star.
Although Utopia is still clearly Rundgren's baby, all four musicians equally contribute, creating a tighter, more disciplined sound that favors the catchier pop and anthemic rock elements over the experimentation of earlier projects and performances. Rundgren's previous work with Utopia had embraced synth-heavy progressive rock experimentation, but here they are clearly beginning to find a balance, reincorporating the pop/rock elements that made Rundgren's earlier work so accessible and compelling.