Review: In Clearwater, Todd Rundgren, Denny Laine, more salute music of the Beatles and each other

All that was missing was Ringo Starr.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CAESAR CARBAJAL
Photo by Caesar Carbajal
As intermission came to an end Wednesday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Todd Rundgren had a proclamation to make that actually made boomers laugh. “Have you heard the news?” He asked. “Ron DeSantis is gay. But no one thinks he’s hot.” After all the controversy around the Don’t Say Gay bill in the last few weeks, it gets you thinking, doesn’t it? *mentally annihilates a thought bubble of Ron DeSantis riding a horse*

One of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's newest inductees has once again pieced together a supergroup of musicians to help him salute The Beatles. The group—once featuring former Monkee Micky Dolenz—played most of The White Album on tour in 2019. This time around, Todd and friends took on Rubber Soul and Revolver. And the best part is that most of the people onstage have ties to the most famous band of all time. Or at least its members.

You obviously have Rundgren, who has played in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band on and off for years. Like most everyone else in Todd’s own all-star band, he only appeared onstage for bits and pieces of the two-hour show, but every time he did, he proved himself as the one who can still almost ideally imitate himself from when he was in his prime. “Be who you are! Love who you want!” He hollered before launching into “Hello It’s Me.” Whether he was ending “She Said She Said” with a humorously half-assed Pete Townshend windmill, shredding out his own guitar solo on “I Saw The Light,” or messing up the last verse on “In My Life,” his perpetually youthful spirit could probably wake someone from the dead.

Second from stage right was Liverpudlian guitarist Joey Molland, the last surviving member of Badfinger, which, under a different moniker, was the first band signed to The Beatles’ Apple Records. Unfortunately, he had immensely limited stage time, but every time he came out, the less-than-sold-out crowd knew that they were sitting in front of a legend that looks uncannily like an elvish Paul McCartney. It started rough on his end, when he mixed up the first few bars of “If I Needed Someone,” but he bounced back once he dove into Badfinger’s “No Matter What” and “Baby Blue,” the latter having assistance from Rundgren. The rest of Molland’s appearances were to sing backup, strum his Gibson SG, and later, to take on the lead vocals of “Dr. Robert.”

There were the off-putting-but-nonetheless-cool additions of Christopher Cross and Jason Scheff—a.k.a. Chicago’s Peter Cetera replacement. Neither have immediately direct ties to The Beatles, but were still mainstays onstage. Cross was completely stationary (in 2020, he had temporary paralysis caused by COVID), and surrounded by his own guitar-and-amp rig, while Scheff seldom left the stage, slappindabass on practically every song that wasn’t acoustic. “Michelle” saw Cross pick up his acoustic, and sing the French parts with a faux French accent, and Scheff sat down at a keyboard on stage right to perform “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” followed by the much more electric dance party that was “25 or 6 to 4,” which included Rundgren axe-dueling with Scheff. It was a cool way to bring more band fandoms together, but some are still trying to figure out the connection between Chicago, Christopher Cross, and The Beatles. Although, a few sources cite Cross’ “Ride Like The Wind” as sounding much like Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.”

Which brings us to the final piece of the band: Denny Laine.

Laine, who co-founded Wings with the Beatle and wife Linda Eastman, was perhaps the biggest reason as to why this show should have sold out. Sure, Rundgren is a regular around here, and Scheff's presence was a good way to get hyped for this summer’s Chicago/Brian Wilson co-headliner show at the Amp. But a ton of people missed out when Denny performed at Skipper’s Smokehouse six years ago. He knew what we ride-or-die Beatle fans wanted, and he more than delivered. He appeared somewhat gaunt and tired, but when it was his turn to hit the mic, it was almost like he was back in Wings. He took on lead vocals on “I Want To Tell You,” harmonized with Cross and Scheff on “Nowhere Man,” and gave a rousing performance of “Band On The Run”—also with Cross and Scheff—which was rewarded with a major standing ovation. Not to mention his performance of his other co-founded band, The Moody Blues’ insanely early cover of “Go Now!” while perched on the same stage-right keyboard utilized by the all-around badass of a multi-instrumentalist that is Darin Murphy.

All five members finally recommenced to close the show with Rubber Soul’s “The Word,” and for an encore, an enjoyable rendition of “Yellow Submarine,” starting with Molland singing the first verse a cappella.

Give it another eight-or-so months and Rundgren will be back. But what about everybody else? Will Joey bring his Badfinger touring band to the Bilheimer Capitol at some point? Will Denny Laine reunite with Sir Paul when he rocks Camping World Stadium this summer?

He does have a house in Naples, so hopefully, hearing one more tune out of him isn’t out of the question.

About The Author

Josh Bradley

Josh Bradley is Creative Loafing Tampa's resident live music freak. He started freelancing with the paper in 2020 at the age of 18, and has since covered, announced, and previewed numerous live shows in Tampa Bay, even as the live music industry continues to get back on its feet.
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