There wasn't much need to worry that Todd Rundgren's fine concert Thursday at the Wiltern Theatre wouldn't live up to his latest album. "Second Wind," though not sounding like a live album, was recorded on stage before an audience, with most of the same musicians as on this show.
With a psychedelically garbed 10-piece band in tow, the wizard/true-cult-star was indeed able to provide a full, sophisticated pop sound for a healthy two hours plus--almost all of that length devoted to songs from his three most recent albums, and only a handful of old hits.
Casual fans who haven't paid their dues in the Todd-Is-God Club for a while may not have recognized much--though they probably weren't put off, since the direction of his current material is more in line with "Hello, It's Me" (which he did perform) than the side trips of intervening decades.
Fans of guitar heroics \o7 may\f7 have been put off: Rundgren picked up a conducting baton far more than his trusty ax (and one of the three or four times he did solo, it proved nightmarishly out of tune).
Though he's essentially apolitical, Rundgren's best and worst songs this time addressed counterculture concerns: "Second Wind" was a sweeping, Utopia-style call for post-'60s spiritual renewal. The acoustic "Jesse," meanwhile--his profanely satirical attack on easy targets Jesse Helms, Tipper Gore and Pope John Paul II--seemed a reactionary response to the reactionary, and quite beneath him.
Rundgren plays the Ventura Theatre tonight and the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego on Sunday.