Reviews for Kasim's DVD ~ An Evening with Kasim Sulton - Live in Atlanta have been glowing.
Kasim Sulton, Live In Atlanta… Or live in your living room
Author: Jeff Boule
When I first heard about Utopia’s new bass player back in 1977, I wondered if he would last. “Who is this Kaseem Sooltan?” I asked. The answer is extraordinary talent, a level-headed sensibility and a close eye on Todd Rundgren have kept him working with industry names such as Mick Jagger, Joan Jett, Patti Smyth and most notably as musical director for Meatloaf, as well as being part of the foundation of the Bat Out Of Hell original album and a right-hand man to Rundgren since Utopia’s evaporation in 1992.
Sulton has been busy, but manages to maintain a solo career that includes solo acoustic guitar gigs up and down the East Coast (often serving as his own chauffer, videographer, roadie and most likely other roles too numerous to mention). A prolific songwriter, Sulton has penned songs for Utopia and himself since his first solo album in 1980 called simply Kasim. Since then he has released Quid Pro Quo and All Sides. The DVD in question is Kasim Sulton Live in Atlanta, March I, 2008 and features songs from Utopia, a Rundgren cover (can we call it a cover if he has played the song a wazillion times with the artist who wrote it?) and many other notable songs and some surprises.
After a humble introduction from Rundgren Radio’s Doug Ford, Sulton and his long-time accompanist Doug Kennedy and extra special guest Jesse Gress (of Todd Rundgren and Tony Levin’s bands) take the stage for a total of three guitarists playing these songs. Three for the price of one, nice!
After a brief chat from Mr. Sulton, begging audience participation, and feigning being unprepared, he launches the trio into “Are You Happy Now” from All Sides. The lyrics detail a woman perhaps from Sulton’s past. “A snow white life” and “Did you get so high did you touch the sky” makes this jaded blogger think that the woman he lost went to the high society suburban blow crowd. As a native Staten Islander, Sulton makes reference to Oyster Bay. Just across the bay from Staten Island, Sulton feels worlds away. A woeful song of loss, sadness and a little get-even-ness. Blistering solo from Kennedy.
The next song, also from AS, is “Yellow Cab”. This song and video made a minor splash for Sulton. Airplay? Ha ha ha, outside of Rundgren Radio, doubtful. During the song, Sulton keeps his eyes closed in order to fight a vocal-heavy monitor mix, which may have explained the off-ness of Gress’ solo. But by the end of the solo, they have it together, but Sulton still implores “Grady” to up the guitar in the monitor. Consummate performer, he chats with the crowd while getting the mix. This proves his road acumen.
Another AS tune, the rockin’ “Sometimes Love Is A Dangerous Thing.” The first line, talkin’ about drinkin’ and quittin’ when he’s damn ready. This song is just 100% broken heart love gone wrong or bad! Killer lyrics, impeccable melodies, guitar acrobatics from Gress and Kennedy, and a full solo from Gress. With all these musical attributes going for it, you still can’t help but feel bad for the guy.
Happy chatter from a tired Sulton, thanking the usual suspects, and then we are regaled on what he did with his first advance from Utopia. Let’s face it, this guy got into a band that a lot of us musicians would have sold our mothers to get into.
I would have sold mine for less.
The next song is from the Kasim album. “This Must Be Love” Sulton calls a funny song. The lyrics do have their moments. A fiery first solo from Kennedy with hot melodies throughout. More of those “This-should-be-on-modern-pop-radio-not-Michael-Bolton” pop sensibility-laden lyrical melodies. So underrated. Put a tight ending on that and call it a tune.
Sulton goes on to pick up his story about joining Utopia, telling us why he chose to do Rundgren’s “Cliché” from his Faithful album. Usually a tune Rundgren performs on acoustic guitar as a soloist. Naturally this is done by Sulton to near perfection. Short of the falsetto and cutting short the phrase “Where are the words”, Sulton sings the song clearer vocally than Rundgren’s original.
Sorry Todd. You’re still my main man.
Sulton then hops right into safe territory, a song from the Utopia album, “There Goes My Inspiration”. This is of particular interest to me as it is a song I have been known to perform live. Study at the hands… This being a song Sulton recorded, it was played with uberconfidence. The monitor mix is good, the trio have congealed, there is some darn magic happening here! Hot damn!
We hop into the lead track from, again, Utopia, “Libertine”. A bit re-arranged for the trio, it is fresh. Kennedy plays a Rundgren-worthy solo. My main complaint is that Gress offers no backing vocals. Having worked with Rundgren long enough himself, you would think he picked up some vocal techniques. He sounded good at the NYE show.
When the song and applause dies down, Sulton lies by saying that this is the end of the Utopia portion of the show. Or at least until the end of the show. Or maybe more than one. He then tells of his experience upon hearing Bourgeois Tagg’s “I Don’t Mind At All” (from their Yoyo album) and his relationship with the author(s). Also a tale of home life in the Sulton household. As I sit here watching, I find myself singing in harmony to the original arrangement. This was such a great tune that got far less airplay than it deserved.
But the price of the disc is gotten back during the “If so and so married so and so…” discussion.
After confessing his lie about Utopia, he wants to attempt “Back On The Street” from Oops Wrong Planet, followed by a diatribe of low self-esteem. He further panders for a standing ovation for his Mom.
Than, if you boost your volume button, you can hear Gress rank on the use of a boom mounted camera such as the one that was used for Rundgren’s Liars Tour DVD.
To quote Trent Reznor, “Will you bite the hand that feeds you?” Well half feeds, Tony Levin provides the other half. But if Levin keeps alienating fans with his affiliation with MAGNOCD, he will not be able to feed anybody.
Once Sulton is indulged, and despite warnings that if this attempt at “Back…” fails, he may stop and restart. This turns out to be a really good “acoustic” version and is replete with backing vocals by Gress, all is right with the world! Another Rundgren-worthy solo from Kennedy. Where did this guy come from? The last chorus turned out quite eerie I might add. Highly emotive at this point.
Sulton claims he is not prolific, and claims that “Minutes Slipping Past” from AS is depressing. After a false start Sulton launches into it again with a confidence and bravado of purpose. This song is a healthy look at life coming to a close. Some may find it depressing. I find it, to a degree, factual.
Sulton introduces Gress and Kennedy at this point. Gress switches and not switches guitar, and after some meteorological chatter, and more guitar tuning, we are treated to another love gone wrong song. “Before She Was Gone” from QPQ. Jangly melodies bring Sulton’s vocal about proper treatment of the female human right into your face. But that’s OK, his voice is great. He’ll get you through this. The basis of the song, actions speak louder than words never spoken. Sad but true. The surprise of this song is the lovely outtro chorus! Nice interplay between guitars. Tricky three camera editing at the end.
Whilst tuning, Sulton discusses his discography, lets a woman use the rest room, and discusses new band names.
“Sacrifice” from QPQ is up next. Kennedy’s harmonics lead off the catchy melody. Sulton sings this song with such conviction it would seem that it might be the culmination of his life’s experiences. You believe in what he says. A less than I expected solo from Kennedy.
After calling Utopia stupid, he launches into another diatribe about how they recorded Utopia records. After deriding Kennedy for crying over the last solo, we are presented with Swing To The Right’s “The Up”. My fave Utopia album, this one’s for me, complete with multiple Rundgren impersonations. Gress adding backing vocals, they are tight on the riffs, Kennedy adding tasteful harmonics, Gress adding tasteful Roger Powell replacement parts. I go for The Up! Sulton sings this just like he did in 1982 for the tour.
More Rundgren impersonations abound surrounding the discussion of another Rundgren fronted group, The New Cars which was the revival without Ric Ocasek. Sulton mimics Rundgren claiming territory as to who sang what. Sulton wanted to do all of the late Ben Orr’s parts, but instead was only allowed to do “Drive” from their Heartbeat City album. That is, The Cars album Heartbeat City. Kennedy providing the swells and Gress providing the acrobatics, Sulton holds it all together nicely.
After swearing at the audience and imitating Rundgren some more, the non-prolific songwriter has A NEW SONG NOT ON ANY ALBUM!
Maybe he does have low self-esteem.
But something is different about this song. The lyrics are what you would expect from the title, “Watching The World Go By”, but I sense maturity in songwriting. Why isn’t this guy more popular?
Some tuning and some bemoaning of the lack of technicians and some audience appreciation, and some Red Hot Chili Peppers, we are ready for “The One Sure Thing” from QPQ. That is, after a false start and more tuning, Lyrics detailing uncertainty doubt, commitment and co-dependency. Heart warming none-the-less.
After detailing Utopia in Japan for the first time, and how this audience reminded him of a well-behaved Japanese audience, being so quiet in between songs, we get our last main show title. As a main show ender, we are given that last Utopia track, “One World”, also from Swing. My fave album again, and as a song I play onstage as well. Kennedy provides a better-than-Rundgren solo, but as Sulton tries to inject the word Atlanta into the lyric, fumbles into the clap break.
Oh, well, you can’t win `em all.
Gress solos out to the end chord and the trio holds that chord until he gets his standing ovations, goading the audience into standing up.
He introduces the other members of the trio and leaves after many thanks. But he returns quickly through the magic of editing, but by himself, truly solo.
“Somebody Loves You” by Nik Kershaw is the encore. Not being familiar with Kershaw of most of his works, I can say this is an appropriate song for Sulton to cover. But that’s about all I can say.
There are special features on this disc, but I don’t want to give this all away. The show portion is ideal for background fodder, but if you are a Todd Rundgren, Utopia or Kasim Sulton fan, you gotta have this.
But what’s in it for the not so big a fan? Plenty of pop music, good melodies, great lyrics, great singing and the possibility that you may venture into new territory and find a whole new world of really great music! Let Kasim Sulton show you around!