Vinyl [VVednesday] and the Live Experience


Listening to music at work or whilst working out is good and all, it just doesn’t bring the same set of side effects that the vinyl format does (they’re great side effects). One of them is the ability to improve one’s live music experiences in general, something which I’ll explain whilst talking about a few neato records and the impact they’ve had on my life. One is a quirky, tripped-out 70’s prog rock icon and one’s a classic NWOBHM band which we all know and love.

Utopia, and The Concert I Never Knew I Needed So Badly

Todd Rundgren is an artist who wrote an absolutely atrocious song called “Bang the Drum All Day” which was played on the radio starting in 1982, and still gets played occasionally in 2019. As a younger lad, I hated Todd Rundgren because that’s all I knew about him. I had assumed his whole career consisted of writing clever (yet really bad) top 10 pop rock hits…but I was wrong, fam. Todd’s band Utopia had a trippy psychedelic prog rock album in the early 1970’s! And here’s where I tip my hat to one of the benefits of the vinyl format: introducing me to stuff I never knew existed…

So here I am on a heavy metal blog meeting other people who like all kinds of different music, and one of my Facebook friends recommends the band Utopia; this person had seen that I finally invested in a turntable and was actively perusing the local record shops looking for old gems. I took an inexpensive gamble and tried his recommendation, then fell in love with the album called Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, released in 1974 (it was $6). It has nothing in common with that “Bang the Drum All Day” song. There are 10-20 minute prog-rock opuses on his earlier stuff; they’re cheesy as hell but also ridiculously awesome.

One day a TovH member told me that Utopia was going to be playing in my area. Tickets were $20 apiece. It was to be held at the gorgeous Stiefel Theatre, built in 1931 (the header image of this article). This decision was very easy. I shared the event on Facebook, two friends expressed interest. The three of us ended up having one terrific evening in this historic theater, surrounded by super casual Todd Rundgren fans who were all about two decades older than ourselves.

We were running a little bit late, but there were no openers so that was fine. Upon entering the venue and finding our seats, the band starts playing the first notes of “Utopia Theme” (embedded above). This was music to my ears (literally and figuratively), because I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I was a little worried that all we would hear would be the more recent, pop-friendly hits that occupied so much airtime decades ago, but the musicians had plenty of stamina to play songs from each album, from his first to his most recent, even if they were 15+ minutes long! After my friends and I sat down in our assigned seats, I looked around the crowd to gauge their level of excitement, and noticed that nobody knew a single note of it. I knew every twist and turn of the music from frequently spinning that awesome vinyl recommendation a few months prior, and I was on cloud nine—completely transfixed.

This particular show consisted of two separate one-hour sets from just Utopia, with a 15 minute intermission. It blew me away, and I was loving every moment of it (yes even the later career, radio-friendly songs). But what struck me as so interesting was that there wasn’t a single soul in the audience who showed one iota of interest until the final two songs of the evening (their biggest radio hits). The majority of the people in St. Louis who had paid to see Todd Rundgren only knew his two most popular radio hits. *Sigh.*

Don’t bother with much Utopia past these records (and even a couple of them are a stretch). Utopia’s “Oops…Wrong Planet” has about four good songs (Trapped, Back on the Street) but the rest is rather poppy, so that’s a good stopping point if you need one. Also worth mentioning is the terrific “Ra” from 1977, an album not pictured above because I am currently lending it out to somebody. It was a combination of a recommendation from an Internet friend and then doing a little crate digging at the local record store which got me into the band. It was a terrific live experience, a great surprise.

Iron Maiden, and How Can a Live Show Possibly Be Any Better?

A live show by Iron Maiden sure is the best thing in the entire world, isn’t it? I mean…there are extremely good smaller, local shows that are unmissable, BUT those gigantic arena shows are still just pure bliss.

I started to devour every album of this band’s output since discovering them around the release of Brave New World in the year of our lord 2000. I love the old shit, I love the new shit, I love it all really (at their worst, it’s pretty decent heavy metal). Seeing them live can push a man’s opinion of something in life that’s normally rated a “10/10” show into an “11/10.” Iron Maiden does that. A few years ago we saw them on the Book of Souls tour, where they played most of the songs from the record, interspersed with their usual (great) hits.

As with any band, there is always going to be a large population of fans who do not investigate the newer material as it is released. Those fans will end up seeing them live but not having as much fun as nerds like myself. 2015’s Book of Souls is really good, my friends. It’s what I would classify as an easy 3.5 out of 5 flaming toilet emojis: the good songs are great, and there’re only 2-3 stinkers. But, as an added bonus for attending a live show, you’re surrounded by fans who sing along with you for every song, they high-five and hug each other—it really is a communal event. And that show was easily one of the top five experiences I’ve ever had in life. Then we saw them in Indianapolis a few months ago for the current tour and it was just as good. I was too high at this one to get a good photograph, but my buddy snapped one:

Those were two memorable experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. With Utopia, I would never had thought to attend the show if it weren’t for my latest addiction hobby. The Maiden experienced was just so enhanced by having heard the new album several times and knowing some of the lyrics (well it was enhanced with other things too, which greatly contributed). Have you been to any transformative live shows? Discuss in Disqus.

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