Todd Rundgren - Utopia


Rundgren's back-up band for A Wizard, a True Star (1973) evolved into the first version of Utopia, a larger prog-rock ensemble, which included multiple keyboards, synthesizers and brass and featured a character completely disguised in a silver suit, "M. Frog Labat" (Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi) on synthesizers, who also put out his own electronics/keyboards-based solo album. This incarnation premiered on 1974's Todd Rundgren's Utopia, which was book-ended by the 14-minute "Utopia Theme" (recorded live in concert) and the 30-minute suite "The Ikon", which occupied the whole of Side 2 of the album. Like Wizard, the album also showcased Rundgren's skills as a recording and mastering engineer, clocking in at over 30 minutes per side.

A slightly altered version of this group performed on the eclectic 1975 live album Another Live. It featured three new extended progressive tracks (which appear only on this LP), a version of "Heavy Metal Kids" (from Todd) and covers of "Something's Coming" (from "West Side Story") and "Do Ya" by The Move. By the time this album was recorded the Utopia lineup included keyboard player/trumpeter/vocalist Roger Powell and drummer John "Willie" Wilcox.

In 1976 Siegler left Utopia and was replaced by Kasim Sulton (bass, keyboards, vocals), who had previously played with New York singer-poetess Cherry Vanilla. This formidable ensemble was widely regarded as one of the best live acts of its day—all four members were highly accomplished on their main instrument as well as being able to play multiple other instruments, and all four could sing lead vocals.

After 1977's prog-rock fusion homage, Ra, Utopia moved toward a more concise pop-oriented style with 1977's Oops! Wrong Planet, which included "Love Is the Answer", later a hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley, followed by the more successful Adventures In Utopia in 1980, which spawned the hits "Road to Utopia", "Set Me Free" and "Caravan". During that year Utopia also acted as the backing band for the Rundgren-produced Shaun Cassidy solo album Wasp.

Other releases include Deface the Music (also 1980), an uncanny Beatles homage, that borders on parody; the more politicised Swing to the Right (1982), incorporating more new wave elements; their pop-referenced, self-titled album Utopia (1982), as well as Oblivion (1984), which showed a cynical side of Utopia, sporting a black cover. 1985's P.O.V. includes "Mated", later a staple of Rundgren solo tours. Rundgren eventually disbanded Utopia in the mid-1980s; they released Trivia (1986) as their "swan song" effort. However, in 1992 a brief tour of Japan reunited the Rundgren/Powell/Sulton/Wilcox lineup, and Redux '92: Live In Japan was released on Rhino Records.

Eventually, the compilation Oblivion, P.O.V. and Some Trivia was released in 1996, an effort by Rhino Records to re-release selections from the Todd/Utopia discography. In addition, many Utopia concerts from the mid-1970s onwards were taped (e.g. their 1975 London debut, recorded by BBC Radio) and these were widely bootlegged by fans, although some have since gained an official release and can now be obtained as commercial digital downloads from iTunes.

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