Despite the impending rain and winds of Hurricane Sandy, music lovers pushed through the storm Sunday night to see the musical collaboration between four-piece contemporary string quartet ETHEL and 1970s rock artist and producer Todd Rundgren.
Rundgren is known for being the lead singer of the progressive rock band Utopia, and for his successful solo career, which produced hits such as “Bang The Drum All Day” and “Hello It’s Me.” Their performance featured the two musical talents collaborating to bring a new artistic flavor to Rundgren’s songs by adding string accompaniment to them.
The performance, titled “Tell Me Something Good,” served as a tribute to the music of the ’70s, as ETHEL — composed of Ralph Farris, Dorothy Lawson, Kip Jones and Tema Watstein — and Rundgren tried to draw material and inspiration from the sounds and scenes of “The ‘Me’ Decade.”
The concert started with ETHEL playing four songs alone. The selections ranged widely in genre from classical to renditions of popular tunes, featuring both a cover of the Led Zeppelin track “Kashmir” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” Experimenting with the techno songs that were popular in 1970s music, “Octet 1979” featured an upbeat electrical background keeping the beat.
Attendee Jenny Lum was specifically impressed with ETHEL’s ability to bring new life to the old songs. “It was really interesting to see how ETHEL took such popular ’70s bands, like Led Zeppelin, and brought an interesting interpretation to playing them,” she said.
ETHEL’s performance was followed by Todd Rundgren performing solo with guitar, piano and even ukulele. He gave heartfelt and well-received performance featuring songs such as “I Don’t Want to Tie you Down” and “Can We Still Be Friends.” During a lighter part of the concert, he performed what he referred to as an “Old Hawaiian war chant,” which turned out to be “Bang The Drum All Day” played with the ukulele.
Sophomore economics major Brian Donato grew up surrounded by Rungren’s music, thanks to his father’s Rundgren fandom. This was his first time seeing him live, and he found Rundgren’s solo performance quite memorable. “Rundgren definitely put on a great show and served as a great start to me hopefully seeing him more,” he said.
Once the performers finished their repertoires, they came on stage together to perform eight songs featuring Rundgren favorites such as “Stood Up,” “I Saw the Light” and others with string accompaniment. “I Saw the Light” featured a strong and powerful violin accompaniment in the background, with viola and cello acting to keep the beat. The five musicians played a varying number of songs within the set, featuring a funk song entitled “Soul Brother”to a heavier, ballad-like rendition of “Zen Archer” that started with an instrumental opening. Rundgren even played a humorous rendition of the Muppets song, “Mahna Mahna,” complete with a scatting solo.
Before the show, Paul Brohan, artistic initiatives director at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, was very excited to see how two very different types of music would work together.
“I think what distinguishes the … center is how we look for differing musicians to come together and collaborate,” he said. “While I’m not certain exactly what will happen, I still have great respect for these musical powerhouses and I’m sure it will be great.”
The Monday seminar, “an inside look at producing live recordings” featuring Rundgren and ETHEL was canceled because of Hurricane Sandy. Brohan had hoped the seminar would help encourage students to share music on a wider scale, as well as bring students together to learn unique ways to combine musical interests together.