I am conscious of a serene distortion of space and time—the ceiling appears to be breathing. The thought that the building has a soul pops into my head. The rundown dump that always seems to be inflated by an atmosphere of sound that keeps it from disintegrating is now a gently respirating vortex swelling with compassion.
There are not many people in the audience—like the Pink Floyd and Bowie shows. We are all gathered close to the stage—I stand there with my two friends— enwrapped in the satisfaction of the present moment. The opening lines to “International Feel” spontaneously come to mind— “Here we are again / the start of the end / but there’s more.”
The house lights dim. Todd walks on stage alone, dressed in a white, long-sleeved shirt painted with multi-colored circles and pyramids. He wears a similarly decorated pair of bell bottom trousers that are about eighteen inches wide. The outfit is ornamented with colored beads that reflect spangles of light. A Gibson SG electric guitar hangs from his shoulders. The instrument is painted with yellow stars, rainbows, flames—an angelic figure dances above the tone and volume control knobs. The overall effect—Elvis has taken a massive dose of acid and has teleported from the black hole of Las Vegas in 1969 to the post-Summer-of-Love weirdness of 1974. Todd has longer hair, is slimmer, and he’s likely about to lay down something far more mind-expanding than Viva Las Vegas. A smile materializes on my face like a piece of orange sugar candy glowing as brightly as the spotlights that illuminate the stage.
He says a few words of greeting—manipulates some switches on a stack of equipment next to him. The sound of an entire band surges from the stage—but he is the only musician in view. Songs flow by quickly—pop-oriented singles created by his commercial muse— “Hello, It’s Me,” “I Saw the Light,” and “A Dream Goes on Forever.”
Todd is far less frenzied than Ziggy Stardust despite the kaleidoscopic Elvis-spoof costume and the peculiar absence of anyone else onstage with him. We settle into the setlist as if we are listening to a virtual transistor radio broadcasting from the stage. In between numbers, he cracks sardonic jokes—comments on the Nixon impeachment hearings that began the day before—generates a laid-back ambiance that enfolds us like a cozy blanket.
I lose track of time—psilocybin does that. The set is one sustained song intermixed with Todd’s voice, guitar, and banter. The individual tunes naturally expand or shrink as the show progresses. The audience sings along as a spontaneous bond grows between us. Veiled within those tunes are traces and hints of the wilder musical ideas recorded on A Wizard, A True Star, and Todd.