Niagara Gazette

August 15, 2013

Closest thing to Utopia on stage Thursday in Buffalo

By Thom Jennings ngedit@niagara-gazette.com
Night & Day

Night & Day — On Oct. 31, 1982, I witnessed a show that changed my life. Todd Rundgren, Kasim Sulton, Roger Powell and Willie Wilcox, collectively known as Utopia. Within a few weeks, a friend of mine who was a local disc jockey for a rock radio station began sharing cassette tapes of the band’s live performances, and soon afterward began what most and my friends called an “odd obsession.”

The advantage of being a Utopia fan is that the band members lead you in many musical directions. Todd’s production work leads you to big names like Grand Funk, Meat Loaf and Cheap Trick. Keyboardist Roger Powell toured with David Bowie and even is mentioned in Pete Townshend’s autobiography. Drummer Willie Wilcox’s resume includes work with Hall and Oates and Stacey Q. Finally, bassist Kasim Sulton, his list includes Joan Jett, Meat Loaf, Celine Dion, Bon Jovi, The New Cars and Blue Oyster Cult.

Utopia last performed together in 1992. Since then Kasim Sulton is the only member of the four piece unit that has worked with Todd Rundgren on a consistent basis. Sulton will be part of Rundgren’s band in Buffalo along with guitarist Jesse Gress, keyboardist John Ferenzik and drummer Prairie Prince.

Both Rundgren and Sulton will be in town Thursday at the free Buffalo Canalside show.

Since his days in Utopia Kasim’s services have been in heavy demand. For this tour he had to decide whether to continue to tour with Blue Oyster Cult or go on the road with Todd.

“The way Blue Oyster Cult books their shows is very different; if they get an offer for a show in a week they may take it. When the Todd tour came along there weren’t many BOC shows booked for the summer so I was caught between a rock and a hard place,” Sulton said during a recent phone interview from his home in the New York City area.

“Todd’s fans are the ones that know me best. My fan base isn’t BOC’s. Then there is the history factor, I’ve known Todd for 37 years. It was a no-brainer and the only thing I had to worry about is if BOC would take me back, and they said that wasn’t a problem.”

Fan of the four-piece Utopia band were recently treated to a couple of surprises. The band was featured prominently on the cover of a recent issue of “Goldmine” magazine, and it included interviews with all the band members. It was one of the few times in recent years Todd has talked extensively about his former band.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how generously he spoke about our history. Unfortunately, Utopia was something that wasn’t going to last forever and everybody had their other interests and other things going on,” Sulton said.

In recent years Todd has uncharacteristically revisited his past, putting on album shows, touring with the progressive rock lineup known as “Todd Rundgren’s Utopia” and even mining deep in his catalogue to play “We Gotta Get You a Woman” during orchestra shows.

The closest fans have come to seeing a four-piece Utopia reunion came in 2009 when Todd surprised fans with an opening set of Utopia songs before his performance of “A Wizard a True Star.” The band featured Rundgren, Sulton, Powell and Prairie Prince.

“As much as I love Prairie, I thought Willie should have been there. Prairie is great but he wasn’t a member of Utopia and I think that is the reason Todd won’t tour with the three of us and call it Utopia. Aside from that, Roger has bad arthritis and can’t play for any extended period of time.”

Many fans speculate that a long-standing rift between Wilcox and Rundgren is the only thing that stands in the way of a full reunion. While a full tour seems unlikely for a number of reasons, a one-off performance or mini-tour may be easier to pull off.

“Never say never, I have talked to Todd about it and I have talked to Willie about it but to be honest I doubt it will happen.”

Todd’s show in Buffalo will feature one song from his Utopia days “Love is the Answer,” which may be the answer to how the band can reunite.

In the meantime, Utopia fans can look forward to hearing new music later this year from Kasim Sulton as he puts the finishing touches on his solo album entitled “3.” The cover will feature a mosaic of fan submitted pictures, including one featuring me and my dog, whose name is Kasim.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.