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Todd Rundgren + Bogart’s = Nostalgia

If you walked into the recent Todd Rundgren show at Bogart’s, you could feel the nostalgia in the air. The audience primarily consisted of baby boomers, and many of them came as couples. Todd has long enjoyed what marketing pros would refer to as “brand loyalty;” an old buddy I ran into exclaimed that was his thirtieth Todd show, and someone else said that she had now seen him 21 times.

Surely the long-term fans felt a sense of nostalgia seeing Todd again, and surely there were plenty of people there who, as soon as they walked through the doors that evening, got a whiff of Auld Lang Syne as they returned to the nightclub they first attended as teenagers. But it wasn’t all nostalgia, as Bogart’s has undergone some very positive changes recently. One of the first things returning baby-boomers would have noticed was that the lack of smoke. That, of course, is Ohio law, and a good one. Recently, though, Bogart’s set up a cool outdoor smoking patio, which was plenty popular that evening.

Baby boomers may also have been a bit shocked to visit the restrooms, which in the old days were rather frightening and now seem as stylish as a museum lobby. Boomers also would have noticed the VIP seating, which allows groups to have a private party in the middle of everything. What all this points to is that, far from resting on its laurels, Bogart’s is striving to make the concert experience that much more enjoyable. Manager Karen Foley has gone out of her way to not only take the club up a notch but to focus on Corryville in general, including the Saturday morning Cleanup Corryville events.

As for the Rundgren’s performance that evening, let’s just say that this rolling stone ain’t gathering no moss either. Todd has long been a musical iconoclast, completely unpredictable and ready to shed his skin at a moment’s notice, and at this concert he certainly lived up to his reputation. Primarily performing new stuff, he concentrated almost exclusively on vocals. The guitarist and drummer accompanying him were playing over pre-recorded tracks, and it was odd witnessing this half-live /half-programmed performance.

I would describe the sounds that evening as “club music;” there were even points where I almost felt as if I were time traveling to a rave party back in the nineties. The baby boomers weaned on classic rock had settled down by the time that scene came around, and one of the ironies of the show was that, for many in attendance, this was something new and different, the music Todd was performing actually seemed kind of dated (and intentionally so).

The dense sound and frenetic light show were so distracting that it took me a few songs to zero in on the fact that underneath all the hoopla was solid songwriting. Let’s face it: when it comes to writing and performing blue-eyed soul, Todd has few peers. Had he recorded the same tracks with a band that included a horn section and him at the piano, it would have sounded perfectly natural.

Not this week, though, and I respect that. With many classic rockers you get the feeling that the chess pieces have been moved in such a way that their only choice is to play it safe. Todd still keeping us guessing, and people still love him: many of the crowd members in the front half of the floor were dancing, and at times I’d catch people all the way in the back raising their arms in synch with the singer on the stage. Now that’s what I call brand loyalty.