'...it looked like the San Francisco earthquake had hit Utopia! We had water troughs all around the drum riser, which had about 200 gallons of water in them. And they were tipped over onto all the electrical connections, because all the main disconnects for the whole stage, which fed the PA system, all the lights and everything that was right in back of the stage - all the water went into that...'
Billy James' first Todd Rundgren volume, 'A Dream Goes On Forever - The Continuing Story Of Todd Rundgren (Volume 1)' was published in 2003.
The second volume due to be published in 2007, takes up the Rundgren story from 1976 with a foreword by Rundgren collaborator Kasim Sulton.
Thanks to author Billy James, we have an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 2 - A Dream Goes On Forever - The Continuing Story Of Todd Rundgren vol. 2 (The Utopia Years)
As magnanimous as the Ra tour was, so were the faux pas' that occurred whilst putting on such an extravaganza.
"We were midway through the first tour," Kasim Sulton related in 2001, "and we were slowly working our way across the country. Toward the end of 'Singring' everybody had their own solos; Todd fell off the pyramid, Roger fought the fire-breathing dragon, Willie had the dancing waterspouts around the drums, and mine was the wind and fog. We had a bunch of industrial theater fans onstage, blowing across the stage.
While traveling through Arizona the crew thought it would be a wonderful idea to get a tumbleweed and throw it onstage while I was doing my solo without telling me. So they caught this tumbleweed and put it on the bus (we had a crew bus and a band bus)."
Kasim painfully recalled, "During the gig that night I'm playing my solo and all of a sudden they roll this gigantic tumbleweed out onstage and it just sits there; it must have weighed 25 pounds and it didn't go anywhere. I'm looking at it and it's like a huge thicket, thorny bush and it got hung up on my pants; I'm trying to kick it off the stage and it's sticking to me in my leg. It was a nightmare!"
"Yeah, I remember we picked up this tumbleweed," Chris Andersen reiterated the story. "And the next day during Kasim's solo someone put this tumbleweed on stage and blew it across it. Kasim was really mad about that - he didn't think that was funny at all."
"We all had our trials we had to go through in the show and mine involved fire so we had flame jets on stage," recounted Roger Powell. "It took the crew a little while to get control of that; several times they wouldn't pack the flame jets exactly right, so they would either just dud out, which would be totally anticlimactic, or they would be over-zealous and would start spinning around like a Roman candle or something. I remember my eyebrows got singed once with the flame jets!
"Some places the fire marshal wouldn't allow them to be used - I think this included like the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. So we're sitting around that afternoon and I'm going, 'Well, what am I supposed to shoot my laser at?' I had a green laser that was mounted in the Probe. They said, 'Here's what you can do - you can have flash cubes go off" - so it was like I was basically fighting the flash cube dragon."
"As with anything you're going to have positive and negative experiences," Chris Andersen elaborated in the mid-1980s. "We had this one thing that was kind of funny - it happened in St. Louis. The Ra set was very involved because it had an 18-ft high pyramid and a 22-ft sphinx; the whole set was an entire tractor-trailer's worth of scenery and props - it was a tremendous thing! We laid out a 20 by 20-ft deck that was 2-ft high - it came in eight sections all bolted together. So when we would come into a theatre we would cover the stage with our own stage. Underneath the deck were two one-inch steel cables, which anchored the corners of this 18-ft high pyramid.
"At this one theatre in St. Louis they had an elevator in the middle of their stage. The purpose of this elevator was that when they showed movies in this theater these big speakers would come up through the middle of the stage, which would then be behind the movie screen for the sound for the movies. They assured us that the fuses were out of these speakers and were out of this lift in the middle of the stage.
It was about 4:30 pm in the afternoon and I guess one of our stage managers was attempting to get the stagehands to move the pit. I guess the pit was in front of the stage and they were attempting to move that up because it was all the way in the down position and they didn't want any of the performers to fall into it - they didn't want it to be a long drop down there. So they're moving it up and some guy flipped the wrong switch and brought the speakers up in the middle of our set.
Well, it looked like the San Francisco earthquake had hit Utopia! We had water troughs all around the drum riser, which had about 200 gallons of water in them. And they were tipped over onto all the electrical connections, because all the main disconnects for the whole stage, which fed the PA system, all the lights and everything that was right in back of the stage - all the water went into that!"
"Most of the crew were actually on the bus waiting for the band to show up for sound check," Andersen continued. "But I remember I was offstage left tuning a power amplifier, and a friend of mine, Chuck Allen, was tuning some synthesizers onstage - tuning Roger's Probe. I look up at him and I couldn't figure out what was going on. I just saw things going in like five directions. And I remember Chuck trying to grab about six synthesizers at once, and keep the whole thing from sliding off the set. This thing came up into the set about 3 feet before the screaming finally stopped it."
"We did have to cancel the show that night," he concluded. "Luckily we had the next day off because it was a travel day. And we worked the whole day on fixing the set - we did get the show up the next day! That was probably the most disastrous thing that happened that I remember."
When it came to partying on his first major tour with Utopia Kasim Sulton illuminated, "I was pretty young then so I had a really strong constitution - I could do massive amounts of alcohol and drugs and still survive. There was a fair amount of partying on the road…we weren't the Rolling Stones, you know - it wasn't, 'All right, we're going to rent the 5th floor of the Mark Plaza in Milwaukee for a band party tonight!!!' But, yeah, we did OK - we partied."
© 2006 Billy James. All rights reserved.
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