Rundgren has individuality, but with style

Published April 16, 2005

CLEARWATER - This is a performer, after all, who is entirely content with performing a song entitled Black and White while wearing a jacket containing just about every color in the spectrum.

So it wasn't entirely surprising Friday night when Todd Rundgren tore through one of his best known hits, Bang on the Drum, accompanied by nothing other than a ukulele.

"I feel that one of my greatest accomplishments in life is to have written a song that's played at every single sporting event," Rundgren said in introducing the song to 1,471 fans at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Then Rundgren pushed his luck by reminding locals that their beloved Lightning has not had the opportunity to defend its Stanley Cup ownership in 2005: "Just imagine you're at a hockey game. Hey, it's not my fault."

Rundgren got off the hook with a soulful, smart set in which he alternated between piano and electric guitar, generating compassion when he broke a guitar string "I wasn't even playing that hard," as well as when he opened his show on piano with the stirring Compassion from his album Healing.

His other hit, Hello, It's Me, also was performed on piano, with Rundgren impressively hitting the chorus's high notes " 'Cause I never want to make you change for me" just as sharply as he did decades ago.

Rundgren co-headlined with Joe Jackson, whose set no doubt stunned a crowd that expected the poppier fare typical of Jackson's hits Steppin' Out and Is She Really Going Out With Him? which one can hardly believe was recorded 27 years ago.

Jackson performed both, of course, performing solo on piano, leaving his Joe Jackson Band behind for this tour. But his delivery had more in common with Elvis Costello in his punkier days than the adult-contemporary oeuvre the uninitiated might have expected.

"Four shows in Florida - that's about as many as I've had in my whole career," said Jackson before diving into Awkward Age, one of several recent cuts that prove the British pianist as vital and involving as ever in his career. Jackson's set was consistently powerful, and he was impressive in his composure: He ignored a cretinous mouth-breather in the audience who idiotically screamed "Todd Rundgren!" and "No more!" at every opportunity.

Rundgren and Jackson teamed up with a strings choir to close out the show, leading to a triumphant cover of the Beatles' While My Guitar Gently Weeps. The pair proved an impressive complement to Tori Amos, who also performed here recently, allowing local audiences an impressive triumvirate of passionate piano work from true pop masters.