JENNINGS: Utopia making its return to Buffalo

Contributed image    Original bassist/vocalist Kasim Sulton brings Kasim Sulton’s Utopia to Buffalo for a performance at the Tralf on March 8.

Utopia fans have been waiting a long time for a performance in Buffalo. The four-piece band, a later incarnation of a group that toured under the moniker Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, last performed in the Buffalo city limits back on May 10, 1977 at Shea’s. Their last performance in Western New York was on May 31, 1985 at Darien Lake’s old amphitheater.

On March 8, original bassist/vocalist Kasim Sulton brings Kasim Sulton’s Utopia to Buffalo for a performance at the Tralf. The show will feature many of the songs fans of the band will remember well, including their biggest selling hit, “Set Me Free,” which featured Sulton on lead vocals.

“The reason I started doing these shows is because there was no hint of Utopia around from 1992-2018, prior to my doing my incarnation,” Sulton noted during a recent phone interview. “The band just disappeared, it went away for so many years and fans would ask if we were ever going to tour again or record another record. That is what started me thinking about doing this, and why I put the first tour together in 2018.”

From 1976-1985, Utopia released eight studio albums, and the lineup of Rundgren, Sulton, Roger Powell and Willie Wilcox built a devoted following by touring and recording relentlessly through the period. The group unofficially disbanded in 1985, recorded a couple of new tracks for a compilation album in 1987, performed some select dates in 1992, and then went silent.

After the split, Rundgren continued his solo career, and Sulton had no problem finding work, which included releasing solo albums, recording and performing with Meat Loaf, Blue Oyster Cult, Joan Jett, the New Cars and with Todd Rundgren. Powell and Wilcox went to the private sector.

Aside from a handful of performances with three out of four members of Utopia performing an opening set before a handful of Rundgren’s 2008 “A Wizard a True Star” album shows, (Prairie Prince was on drums instead of Willie Wilcox.)

Kasim told Todd and Todd’s management about his plans to perform under the Kasim Sulton’s Utopia moniker in 2018 and received their blessing. The first three shows sold out almost instantly. Later in the year, Live Nation approached the original members of the band to see if they would do a reunion tour. Rundgren, Wilcox and Sulton signed on, but Roger Powell declined to join them due to health concerns. Instead, they would up touring with newcomer Gil Assayas on keyboards, and billed the shows as Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. That tour featured material from all the incarnations of Utopia and was not limited to the four-piece lineup.

“Todd did not want it to be that narrow for those shows. I can’t speak for what he was thinking but I think he made a conscious effort to include material from all of his Utopia lineups, including the three or four years before I was in the band.”

“Whereas I personally wouldn’t have done that, because the lineup that got the most attention was the four-piece version. But Todd wanted to make sure he pleased everyone, so out of respect for Todd we did what he wanted to do,” Sulton said.

Even after the Todd Rundgren’s Utopia tour, Sulton’s Utopia was still in demand, especially for fans of the four-piece lineup. Sulton’s version also dug deep into the group’s diverse catalogue.

“When I decided to do this I could have just played the songs we had played tour after tour, but instead I decided to add some of the songs that the fans wanted to hear that we rarely, or in some cases never played live.”

Sulton’s Utopia includes Assayas, who is credited with saving the Todd Rundgren’s Utopia tour in 2018 when keyboardist Ralph Schuckett had to drop out at the last minute due to health concerns.

“He had never even heard of Todd Rundgren, and he learned all the material in two weeks. He is an incredible talent.”

The band also features Andy Ascolese on drums, who Sulton met while he was in Blue Oyster Cult.

“Andy is just a consummate musician, he’s not just a drummer, he went to college and studied jazz piano. He plays great guitar and has stood in during Blue Oyster Cult shows if somebody couldn’t make it.”

As for performing in Buffalo, Kasim has performed in the area many times in recent years. One of his first dozen performances with Utopia was back in 1976 at Rich Stadium when they opened for Peter Frampton. He also likes performing at The Tralf.

“We had three days open and we were on our way to Cleveland, and I thought it would be great to play in Buffalo and I immediately thought of The Tralf. The show is doing well, and I could not be happier to be playing in Buffalo.”

After this tour, Sulton will be back on the road with Rundgren, and in the summer, he plans to release his fourth solo album, which features songs co-written and performed with Phil Thornalley. Then he plans to do some solo dates near the end of the year, which could include a stop in Western New York.

Tickets for Kasim Sulton’s Utopia start at $24 and are available through Ticketmaster and at The Tralf’s box office.

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

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