Live Carol King, Spirit, Utopia, Crow

By Tom Von Malder | Jun 24, 2019
Photo by: Eagle Vision Carole King performs at Montreux, Switzerland in 1973.

Owls Head — Carole King: Live at Montreux 1973 (Eagle Vision, DVD + CD, 63 min.). Only released 45 years after the event, King’s appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland was the singer-songwriter’s first performance outside of the United States. It came two years after her breakthrough “Tapestry” album and only a month after the release of her “Fantasy” album. This release contains both a DVD of the performance and a CD with the same music.

The show opens in intimate fashion, with just King and her piano for the first four numbers, which include her classics of “I Feel the Earth Move,” “Smackwater Jack,” “Home Again” and “Beautiful.” At one point, King tells the audience, “Usually I don’t get to see my audiences. Tonight, I’m seeing you.” Even the camera work is intimate, with extreme closeups of her face and medium closeups of her playing the piano.

Things change with song five, “Up on the Roof,” as a six-member horn group joins King on stage and she lets loose on her vocal more. “Smackwater Jack” and “Up on the Roof” are two of the songs from her previous career of songwriting with Gerry Goffin. The horn players include George Bohanon and Tom Scott, associated with the smooth jazz movement, which King’s “Fantasy” album helped propel forward. Scoot (sax, flute) in particular would go on to play with dozens of influential artists. Six months later, Scott helped put together Joni Mitchell’s classic “Court and Spark” album. By “It’s Too Late,” the rest of the band comes on stage, including percussionist Bobbye Hall, also from the jazz world, and bassist Charles Larkey, who was King’s husband at the time.

For the next portion of the 18-song concert, King and the band play 10 numbers from “Fantasy,” which was written as a song cycle, with King, who wrote all the lyrics, writing about a young man struggling with drug addiction (the bouncy “Haywood”) and the Latin-tinged “Corazon” (here King urges the audience to clap along). The music of “Fantasy” has a much jazzier feel. Highlights include David T. Walker’s guitar solo on “Being at War with Each Other,” the intro funk feel of “Haywood,” the ballad “You Light Up My Life,” the upbeat “Corazon” and the jazzy feeling “Believe in Humanity.”

King then goes back to being a solo act for the closing “You’ve Got a Friend” and “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman,” two more of her classic compositions, with the later, a mega-hit for Aretha Franklin, co-written with Goffin and Jerry Wexler. Grade: A-

Spirit: Live at Rockpalast 1978 (MIG-Music, DVD + 2 CDs, 113 min.). Spirit was a rock power trio, formed in Los Angeles in 1967 and lasting through 1979, before regrouping 1982-1997. The frontman was guitarist Randy California, who was heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, with whom he played in Jimmy Jones and the Blue Flames in Greenwich Village, when California was only 15. On drums was Ed Cassidy, California’s stepfather, and on bass was Larry “Fuzzy” Knight. While rescuing his son off the coast in Hawaii, California was swept out to sea in 1997. The band’s most notable albums were its eponymous debut, “The Family That Plays Together” and “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.”

This March 5, 1978 show at the Grugahalle in Essen, Germany is presented on both DVD and two CDs, both formats containing the same music. The Hendrix influence comes both in the way California plays his guitar, including with his teeth and behind his head, and in the choice of material. In this show, they perform the Hendrix-associated “Hey Joe,” “Wild Thing” and Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” as well as Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” California also uses foot pedals to control a Moog synthesizer.

The show actually opens with a brief drum solo. Cassidy, who has two timpani drums as part of his kit, was noted for his drum solos, and he has a longer, 8-minute one during “It’s All the Same.” During the latter, Cassidy throws away his sticks at one point and plays the drums with his hands. The opening number is called “Rockpalast Jam” and features lyrics written for the occasion. Brief snatches of the tune and its sung chorus pop up several times later in the show. By song one, California has the audience clapping along and he plays some guitar with his teeth.

Highlights, in addition to the aforementioned Hendrix-related numbers are “Nature’s Way” (probably the band’s best-known song), the melodic rocker “Looking Down from a Mountain,” “1984” (California tells the crowd that this single was censored by the U.S. government), “Animal Zoo” and “Love Charged.” Dickey Betts, a member of the Allman Brothers Band whose offshoot band Great Southern performed earlier that night, joins Spirit to perform the closing “If I Miss This Train/Rockpalast Jam.” Grade: B+

Utopia: The Road to Utopia – The Complete Recordings 1974-82 (Friday Music/Rhino, 7 CDs, 6:13:17). This box set includes the first seven albums Todd Rundgren made with two versions of Utopia for Bearsville/Warner Bros. Records. By 1974, Rundgren was a pop star, riding the success of his double-album “A Wizard, a True Star” (1973) and “Something/Anything? (1972), the latter album yielding the hits “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light.” He began his recording career with the psychedelic rock band Nazz, then issued two solo albums as Runt, scoring a hit with “We Gotta Get You a Woman.” Rundgren also has had a notable career as a producer, working on albums by Badfinger, New York Dolls, Grand Funk Railroad, Hall & Oates, Meat Loaf, Cheap Trick and XTC, among many others.

While continuing his solo pop career, Rundgren decided he wanted to move into progressive rock, which he did with the first two Utopia albums, “Todd Rundgren’s Utopia” (1974) and “Another Live” (1975), which both featured live music. These albums featured a six-person lineup, with two on keyboards (Moogy Klingman and Ralph Schuckett) and one on synthesizers (M. Frog Labat), as well as Rundgren on guitar, Kevin Ellman on percussion and John Siegler on bass and cello. The music was complicated and, for the most part, long, with “Utopia Theme,” “Freedom Fighters” and “The Ikon” standing out among the four tracks. The set adds an alternate take of “Do Ya” (originated with The Move, a hit for Electric Light Orchestra) as a bonus track.

In all the set offers 15 bonus tracks, one apiece for five of the albums and multiple bonus tracks for the other two.

For the follow-up, “Another Live,” Roger Powell on Moog synthesizer and John Wilcox on drums were added to the band as replacements. Powell even got to play trumpet on “The Wheel.” Already Utopia was transforming to a more pop direction with “Another Life” and the hit, “Just One Victory.” There also are covers of “Do Ya” and, from “West Side Story,” “Something’s Coming.” Another strong song is “Heavy Metal Kids,” while the prog rock is down to two numbers.  The bonus is a live version of “Open My Eyes,” a song form Rundgren’s Nazz days.

The Utopia that many came to know and love, including myself, made its first appearance on “Ra” (1977). The sleeker, four-man lineup included Rundgren, Powell, Wilcox and newcomer Kasim Sulton on bass and vocals. Some songs had a theme based on Egyptian mythology, while the opening overture is taken from Bernard Herrmann’s score for the film, “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” It is meshed with an original, “Communion with the Sun” (of which the mono promo single mix is a bonus track). Japanese sounds are woven into “Hiroshima,” while tape loops are used for the ethereal backing vocals on “Eternal Love,” a ballad by Powell and Sulton. There is progressive music in “Sunburst Finish,” and “Singring and the Glass Guitar” features four solos, as the drums battle water; the bass, the wind; the keyboards, fire in the form of a dragon; and the guitar, earth. Both Sulton and Wilcox played on Hall & Oates’ “War Babies” album, which Rundgren produced.

The two most popular Utopia albums were “Oops! Wrong Planet” (1977) and “Adventures in Utopia” (1979), as the band was now more pop or even power pop than progressive. “Wrong Planet” yielded the classics “Love in Action” and the optimistic “Love Is the Answer,” as well as the musically uplifting “The Martyr” and the poppy rocker “Gangrene.” The familiar “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is about being “on the road to Armageddon,” while “Rape of the Young” attacks big corporations (Mr. Exxon and Mr. Chrysler are mentioned by name) and even the president for not listening. (“Love Is the Answer” topped the charts when recorded by England Dan & John Ford Coley in 1979.) On the whole, the songs were shorter and less optimistic. The bonus is a mono promo single mix of “Love Is the Answer.”

“Adventures in Utopia” originally had been intended as the soundtrack for a fantasy TV show about the band, but the TV part of the project fell through. Highlights include the tuneful, uplifting “The Road to Utopia,” “You Make Me Crazy” (a bit like Devo), the ballad “Second Nature,” the mid-tempo “Caravan,” the pretty “Love Alone,” the classic “The Very Last Time” and the disco-ish “Rock Love.” There are seven bonus tracks, including three more mono promo mixes, the single b-side “Umbrella Man” and live versions of The Who’s “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere” (incorrectly listed as “Anyhow Anyway Anywhere”), Question Mark & The Mysterians’ “96 Tears” and Utopia’s “Just One Victory,” all from a Syracuse show.

The last two albums here, “Deface the Music” (1980) and “Swing to the Right” (1982), were a bit more controversial, with the record label holding up release of the latter for about a year until fans demanded its release (the band had been performing the songs live in the meanwhile). “Deface the Music” is an often-inspired homage to The Beatles, using the feel, tempos and melodies of their songs to create new songs with new lyrics. The effort apparently worked so well that the producers of the film “Roadie” declined to use “I Just Want to Touch You” for fear The Beatles might sue. Utopia used “Please Please Me” and “I Want to Hold Her Hand” as inspirations for the track. Other highlights include the clever “Always Late” (inspired by “Lady Madonna,” “Yellow Submarine”) and “Everybody Else is Wrong” (“Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I am the Walrus”), plus “Where Does the World Go To Hide” (“No Reply,” “You Got to Hide Your Love Away”), “That’s Not Right” (“Eight Days a Week”), “Hoi Poloi” with its horns (“Penny Lane”) and “Life Goes On” with its strings (“Eleanor Rigby”). The bonus track is the mono promo single mix of “I Just Want to Touch You.”

“Swing to the Right” is the most political of the albums, with lyrics on corporate raiders, warmongers, political villains and evil music company moguls. Two earlier versions of the album contained the song “God and Me,” which was deleted from the official release and unfortunately is not included here as a bonus track. The bonuses are two mono promo single mixes and the b-side “Special Interest.” “Lysistrata” is anti-war, “The Up” talks about prophets of doom on the TV news, and “Junk Rock (Million Monkeys)” asks “is it live or is it Memorex?” There is a nice cover of “For the Love of Money,” a hit for the O’Jays, and the Utopia classics, the ballad “Only Human” and the upbeat “One World.” “Fahrenheit 451” has a funk party feel. Grade: Box set A

Todd Rundgren's Utopia: Live at the Chicago Theatre (Purple Pyramid/MVD Visual, Blu-ray + DVD + 2 CDs, 128 min. each format). For this brief reunion tour –Utopia essentially ended in 1985 with its third post-Bearsville album, but did have a 1992 Japan tour – originals members Todd Rundgren, Willie Wilcox and Kasim Sulton were joined by keyboardist Gil Assayas, who only had 10 days to learn the material before the tour started. The first 28 minutes are dedicated to Utopia’s early, harder-to-play progressive music, which also is mostly instrumental. These are “Utopia Theme,” “The Ikon” and “Another Life.” Then, Rundgren says it is time for a simpler break and the band launches into a cover of “Do Ya.”

Throughout the show, the lead vocals are spread around, with bassist Sulton singing “Back on the Street,” “Monument,” “Swing to the Right,” “Set Me Free” and “I Will Wait.” Drummer Wilcox sings “Princess of the Universe.”

The show basically has a setlist that is everything a fan could want, with excellent camera work as well. The closing four are perfect: “Rock Love,” “Love Is the Answer,” “One World” and “Just One Victory.” The excellent bonus material consists of separate interviews with all four musicians (44:32 total), as each discusses their past, including what they have done during Utopia’s lengthy hiatus. Rundgren points out that Utopia served as the backing band on many of his album productions, including Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” and Steve Hillage’s “L.” Grade: A

Sheryl Crow: Live at the Capitol Theatre – 2017 Be Myself Tour (Cleopatra/MVD Visual, Blu-ray + 2 CDs, 121 min.). This 21-song performance was recorded Nov. 10, 2017 and features six of 16 tracks from Crow’s then-recently-released “Be Myself” album. Throughout the early parts of the concert, there are brief interview bits with Crow between songs. A bonus features includes 19:50 worth of interview bits, including her talking about meeting with Johnny Cash (he recorded one of her songs) and Cat Stevens (she recorded his “The First Cut is the Deepest,” which is included in the concert). There are is a slideshow bonus (2:15).

Crow’s band is funky in a kind of Southern Rock vein. There is a lot of pedal steel by Josh Grange, while Crow herself plays guitar and keyboards. Musical director Peter Stroud plays guitars, as does Audley Freed, while Fred Eltringham is on drums, Jennifer Gunderman is on keyboards and Robert Kerns is on bass, guitar and bongos. All but two contribute to the backing vocals.

Other hits include “Everyday is a Winding Road,” “All I Wanna Do,” “If It Makes You Happy” and “Soak Up the Sun.” The new songs include “Long Way Back Home,” “Heartbeat Away” (which she tells the audience was influenced by the country’s “political situation”) and “Roller Skate (before which, she asks the audience if they could throw their cellphones away). She performs “Best of Times” from her country album and there is a fine cover of Greg Allman’s “Midnight Rider.” For the finale, “I Shall Believe,” Crow sits at the edge of the stage and interacts with some fans directly. Grade: A-

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