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Monthly Archives: December 2015

Traveler’s end.

After 350 days, George Canale shuffles off to a well-deserved retirement tomorrow night.

Canale — or, more specifically, a 1990 Donruss baseball card of the former Milwaukee Brewers first baseman — was my choice for 2015’s #walletcard, as explained in my post of Jan. 12.

(For anyone who doesn’t feel like re-reading: #walletcard is a curious social-media thang among sports card collectors. You pick a card from your collection and carry it in your wallet for a year, taking a picture of it whenever an interesting opportunity arises and posting those pix online. You also report back at the end of the year on the condition of your card after a year of activity.)

I felt most of the year like I hadn’t taken my walletcard out often enough, and that I’d be disappointed when I reached Dec. 31.

But, counting it up now, I posted 31 #walletcard images on Twitter over the course of the year.

Somehow that doesn’t strike me as all that bad. Certainly, I didn’t fall into the trap of taking a pic of it with every day’s lunch, just for the sake of another post.

Here, then, I offer my 10 best #walletcard posts of 2015.

Thanks, George. It’s been fun.

Jan. 23. The brand-new Italian restaurant where I took this had closed by November.

Jan. 23. The brand-new Italian restaurant where I took this had closed by November.

 

Jan. 24. Heck of a storm, that was.

Jan. 24. Heck of a storm, that was.

 

Feb. 19. Sorry, Catman.

Feb. 19. Sorry, Catman.

 

March 11. Not all who are called, serve.

March 11. Not all who are called, serve.

 

March 14. Jury duty, you can get out of. Taxes, not really.

March 14. Jury duty, you can get out of. Taxes, not really.

 

April 26. I was grilling in the driveway. The eggplant was grilled for purposes of babaghanoush. The beer was not my first of the evening.

April 26. I was grilling in the driveway. The eggplant was later grilled for purposes of babaghanoush. The beer was not my first of the evening.

 

June 21. The Red Sox and I were not in Boston at the same time, so #walletcard had to settle for soaking in some townie color in the subway.

June 21. The Red Sox and I were not in Boston at the same time, so #walletcard had to settle for soaking in some townie color in the subway.

 

July 3. True, this. (The setting: A home game of the Allentown Railers of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League.)

July 3. True, this. (The setting: A home game of the Allentown Railers of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League.)

 

Oct. 25. The notorious Jackson Pollock set design of Donruss '90 holds its own against Mother Nature.

Oct. 25. The notorious Jackson Pollock set design of Donruss ’90 holds its own against Mother Nature.

 

Dec. 24. Holiday merriment. No matter what comes along, ol' George never bats an eye.

Dec. 24. Holiday merriment. No matter what comes along, ol’ George never bats an eye.

And, a last look as of Dec. 30:

Dec. 31. A last look.

New York’s alright if you like saxophones.

I actually did get some outside feedback on yesterday’s baseball card post (on Twitter, not on the blog), so I am emboldened to again solicit public comment. Feel free to jump in.

I weakened this weekend at the sight of the $4.99 CD bin at Barnes and Noble.

Apparently driven by some buried nostalgia for the fall of 1982, I picked up Joe Jackson’s Night and Day, thinking it looked intriguing and cool and eggheady and ripe for discovery.

(It was also $4.99. Did I mention that?)

I’ve been through it once-and-a-half, and it’s OK, maybe pretty good. Once it lands on the shelf it’ll get taken out a couple times a year, kinda like Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, another 1982 release with which it shares certain facile resemblances.

For tonight’s purposes, I am focused not on what’s on the record, but on what isn’t:

Night and Day, which hit No. 4 on the U.S. album chart, has to be one of the very few popular albums with no guitar at all.

There are no six-stringers credited in the liner notes. And my listening so far betrays no crunchy power chords, no sensitive acoustic arpeggios, no chimey Rickenbacker jangle, no Stratocaster quack, no moaning lap-steel blues cliches.

In short, no sign of pop music’s dominant instrument anywhere.

That can’t be that common … but this, reader, is where you come in.

How many popular or influential albums can you name that contain no guitar whatsoever?

I’m gonna rattle off some possibilities that come to mind. But those of you with broader tastes and wider knowledge, help me out in the Comments section.

Here are some other notable guitar-free albums — and some that didn’t quite make it — sorted by category:

Take five. Guitars are common in jazz, but not compulsory; and those jazz records that have crept into mainstream American popularity are as likely as not to be guitar-free.

You won’t hear any strumming, for example, on Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, which reached No. 2 on the album charts in that barren period after Chuck Berry and before the Beatles.

Skipping ahead a generation, fusion giants Weather Report didn’t employ a full-time guitarist either, and the band’s crossover successes Tale Spinnin’ (No. 31, 1975) and Black Market (No. 42, 1976) don’t include any guitar.

(Keyboardist Joe Zawinul, not known to me as a guitarist, apparently played the instrument on one track of the group’s best-known album, 1977’s Heavy Weather. The lure of the six-string is hard to resist.)

Finally, while most Joe Jackson records include guitar, the predecessor to Night and Day doesn’t — because it’s an album of ’40s jump-blues and jive covers.

Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive fell just shy of the U.S. Top 40; I would suggest it’s remembered more for its concept and its alliterative name than its music, but I could easily be wrong about that.

Synth wranglers. The solitary creative figure surrounded by keyboards is a classic (and quintessentially ’70s) pop image. Were any of them able to resist the siren cry of the guitar for the length of an entire album?

The classic Stevie Wonder albums come pretty close — often containing just one or two guitar-contaminated songs per LP — but Stevie was never quite able to stop himself from calling out the likes of Jeff Beck, Buzz Feiten and Sneaky Pete Kleinow.

Same thing with Gary Wright’s The Dream Weaver album. Wright, known for his spacey synthesized soundscapes, gave in and called Ronnie Montrose to contribute to one track.

Kraftwerk’s only U.S. Top 40 album, Autobahn, features the guitar of Klaus Roder. The group managed to go guitar-free on several other well-remembered albums from its classic period, including Radio-Activity, Trans-Europe Express and Computer World.

Another who pulled off the feat was Gary Numan, whose The Pleasure Principle LP was untroubled by guitar … though a glance at his Wiki page shows him hoisting a cherryburst Les Paul, so his guitar-free stance seems to have been a passing phase.

And finally, let’s not forget that Wendy Carlos’s Switched-On Bach, a Top 10 album in 1969, contains the Moog, the Moog and nothing but the Moog.

Solo serenaders. The flipside of the synth wrangler is the solo figure, alone at a grand piano, pouring out his or her soul.

Nothing but voice and piano is a little much to take over the course of an entire album, and I don’t know how many performers have gone that route.

But — especially in the ’90s, when the unplugged concept was at its peak — I have to imagine at least a couple of performers tried that.

So far, the only proper MTV Unplugged album I can find that’s guitar-free is Tony Bennett’s (see Jazz, above.) If anyone knows any non-MTV unplugged albums that fit the bill, let me know.

Ben Folds isn’t really a soul-pourer at heart, I don’t think — he’s more of a prankster, it seems — but I’d be remiss not to mention the Ben Folds Five and Whatever and Ever Amen albums in this essay someplace, and this is as good a place as any.

Demos. Finally, while it’s become common to issue demos and working versions years after the fact, I’m not sure any record of strictly piano-and-voice demos has ever really reached beyond an artist’s fanbase and achieved mass cultural penetration.

But I’ll end with two well-known examples, just to be perverse: Keith Richards’s Toronto, 1977 and Long View Farm. (Like many bootlegs, these have been released together, apart, and packaged with other material.)

Both recordings consist of Keef alone in a studio, armed only with a piano, a drink and a mental repertoire of standards. Both are soulful and charming.

And, in the years before Keith released a proper solo album, they were just about all the glimpse anyone had of Keith in the spotlight by himself, and thus cherished by Stones fans, even if they never troubled the chartkeeper.

# # # # #

I ended up going down a lot more avenues than I thought I was going to. But I’m sure I’ve missed some. What are they?

First pitch.

The salaryman’s Christmas stocking, like those of his kids, usually includes a couple packs of baseball and hockey cards.

And so it was that yesterday, during Belated Christmas Back Home, he took another step into 21st-century pop culture.

In 35 years of collecting baseball cards, I have (to the extent of my memory, and it’s still pretty good) never pulled one with a woman on it.

Until now.

handler

(This is also the first card I’ve ever pulled to which the words “rockin’ some pleather” apply. But I digress.)

In an attempt to stir up interest among collectors, Topps has taken to lacing its standard set of player cards with bunches of subsets.

Technically, this is not new. Topps has been producing sets-within-sets for decades. Like cards showing boyhood photos of top stars, or cards showing father-and-son player combinations.

But these cards, in the past, were usually tied directly to the prior year’s action … whereas now, Topps seems to take more liberties and license in creating new subsets.

So now, in addition to your basic player cards, you’ll get cards that commemorate a player’s first home run (I pulled the much-sought-after Yadier Molina First Home Run card, commemorating an event that happened in 2004), or cards that pair a current player with a player from the past who allegedly influenced them. (Joe Mauer, meet Rod Carew.)

There’s also a First Pitch subset, which shows various celebrities doing the pregame honors.

This group of cards turned a few pop-culture heads early this year, when it was revealed that petulant blues-rock primitivist Jack White would be on one of them. (That bump in public interest probably justified the subset’s existence all by itself.)

Others in the First Pitch set included actor Jeff Bridges; Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney; marathoner Meb Keflezighi; and this young pop star, who I got back in May when I bought my first and only non-gift pack of the year.

mahone

(Correction to the above: This is the first card I ever pulled to which the words “rockin’ some pleather” apply. Is that an iPhone in your pocket, Austin, or are you excited to be on the mound?)

Anyway, I pulled the First Pitch card of comedian Chelsea Handler as part of my Xmas haul.

And it made me wonder how many Topps baseball cards — in the main set, or closely related subsets — have ever featured women.

(I specify baseball cards because Topps has produced all manner of side sets over the decades. I’m pretty sure I have a Star Wars card upstairs from either 1980 or 1983 with Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia on it. But I’m trying to limit my line of thought to cards you might pull if you bought a standard, basic pack of Topps.)

The Baseball Hall of Fame finally got around to inducting its first woman a few years ago, and she’s received cards from other companies, though I don’t know if Topps has done any in its mainstream set.

Also, several women have owned World Series-winning baseball teams — like Joan Payson of the New York Mets, or Marge Schott of the Cincinnati Reds. But while players, managers, coaches and even umpires have been featured on mainstream baseball cards, owners don’t usually get there.

Edit: I’ve also Googled the “boyhood photos of the stars” Topps cards from the ’70s, to see if anyone’s mom or sister showed up. I don’t see any, though the crop job on Willie Horton’s card sure suggests there were other family members in the original picture.)

Searches for phrases like “first baseball card of a woman” or “first Topps card of a woman” don’t provide an answer.

(Knowing Topps’ fondness for things Yankee, I suspected they might have come up with an excuse to put insufferable Yanks radio announcer Suzyn Waldman on a card. A Google search suggests this has not, in fact, come to pass.)

None of this, even my griping of a paragraph ago, is meant to suggest that cards with women are a bad thing. I ask about them out of historical curiosity, not as a complaint; and I’m hoping that someone who knows their baseball-card history will leave me a comment steering me to some examples from the past.

While I’m not specially a fan of Chelsea Handler, I’m kinda delighted to see something other than a scowling masculine game-face on a baseball card.

Women have always been part of baseball — in front-office roles, now as scouts, always as fans. They ought to be represented in what is still one of the lasting historical records of each season.

And, while I’m generally celeb-phobic, I don’t mind the First Pitch set. It seems firmly enough related to baseball; it’s something you’d see if you went to the park on a given day. Why not put it on a series of cards?

It’s sure as hell more interesting than Yadier Molina’s first home run.

Encore Performances: Holiday stoner fudge-spheres.

From the old blog, November 2007. Apparently I was thinking about trying to make a fruitcake. Still haven’t.

Y’know, I never did make that brandy-drenched fruitcake I blogged about a week or two ago.
But I am already indulging in another established holiday favourite:
The bourbon ball.

Way back when, during my days in Massachusetts, I worked with an older lady we’ll call Agnes — not her real name, but an acceptable enough simulation for this purpose.
Agnes was sixtyish, perfectly amiable, rather dotty, somewhat professionally past her prime.
And every holiday she brought in batches of homemade bourbon balls that would stun an ox.
Seriously.

I am a robustly built adult male who is no stranger to bourbon … and I could only eat one of her holiday pastries at work, or else my head would start spinning gently and my work would begin to seem incidental and unimportant.
This is still a running joke between my wife and I, years later.
(She made sure to skip Agnes’s bourbon balls the Christmas she was pregnant. We conservatively estimated each ball contained the equivalent of 4.1 shots of the hard stuff.)

I make my own bourbon balls now.
They’re not as strong as Agnes’s, but they sure are forthright … because once you get used to that, it’s hard to go back.

I made my first batch of the year the other night.
They were supposed to “age,” but I’ve already got my fingers into them, and I just know I’m gonna have to make more if I expect to have any for Xmas.
The way I make them, they come out like bourbon fudge, with crispy little bits of nutmeat to break up the smoothness.
Aw, man; I just know I’m gonna have another once the kids go to sleep.

Here’s the recipe, in case anyone else wants to ride the love train:

1 cup crushed vanilla wafers (you want powder)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup chopped nuts (again, I like ’em as small as I can possibly get ’em — not big chunks of nut)
2 tbsp cocoa
1 1/2 tbsp light corn syrup (you could use honey)
1/4 cup bourbon

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.
Combine corn syrup and bourbon separately. Then mix it into the dry ingredients.
Form into balls. Roll in more powdered sugar (I don’t always do that) and chill.

They will seem sticky when you make ’em, and maybe a little less firmly coherent than you want, but if you let them chill a while they hold together nicely enough.
Have five or six and then you’ll seem sticky and incoherent.

Five For The Record: Terry Kath.

News item: Chicago is one of five performers voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I say I do not care about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I genuinely believe that to be true.

Still, the news that Chicago has been chosen to enter the hall puts me in mind to listen to their Seventies albums – and to think about the one member of the original septet who’s not around to mark the group’s acceptance.

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Terry Kath is most often remembered outside the band’s circle of fans for the shocking and unexpected nature of his death. There was much more to him than that, as anyone who knows the band’s first 11 albums can tell you.

Five For The Record is a recurring feature in which I take something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to state five reasons why I like it.

Today, then, we give Terry Kath five:

1. The hockey. In the last few years of his life, Kath was often seen onstage sporting the jerseys of hockey teams, including the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars and St. Louis Blues. Kath’s modified Fender Telecaster also carried the Indian-head logo of his hometown Chicago Blackhawks on its upper bout.

I don’t specifically know how deep the guitarist’s attachment to hockey went. (I suppose it’s possible he opted for generously cut hockey jerseys to accommodate his increasing weight.)

Still, as something of a hockey fan, I don’t think you see nearly enough rock stars sporting hockey gear onstage.

And I like to imagine going to a Blackhawks (or maybe an L.A. Kings) game in the Seventies and finding the beefy guitarist at the beer stand between periods. The band members were pretty low-profile when offstage, and it seems like a believable rock n’ roll fantasy.

2. The sparkplug. Kath’s role in the band declined in his final few years, as his vocals and guitar no longer occupied center stage on the band’s hits.

(One nadir: The band’s performance of “Harry Truman” on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve 1975 special found Kath — rendered irrelevant by the song’s old-timey sound — holding cue cards for a crowd singalong.)

That said, his last two albums with Chicago both lead off with Kath songs that showcase the groove and energy he brought to the band.

1976’s Chicago X starts with “Once Or Twice,” a barnburner that reminded anyone listening that the band hadn’t given itself all the way over to ballads just yet:

And 1977’s Chicago XI kicks off with “Mississippi Delta City Blues” — a bit slower, a bit funkier, featuring impassioned vocals and multiple layers of slice-and-dice rhythm guitar:

Terry Kath could make his band break a sweat. No one in the years since has had quite the same ability, to the band’s long-term detriment.

3. The spam. 1971’s Chicago III, decreed to be a double album like its predecessors, found the road-weary group struggling to come up with worthy material.

Kath contributed a five-minute mini-suite called “An Hour In The Shower,” a tribute to a working stiff’s day at home and on the job, featuring some memorable lines sung with his usual gravelly brio:

Now I usually have my breakfast
Which consists of tasty spam
Yeah, I could eat it all day long
But I only love one brand
And I can’t find it way out here
So I have to take a pass
And settle for some hash

Seventies Chicago, with its multi-part suites, hits by Varese and detailed horn arrangements, was a pretty cerebral band. There are not a lot of purely random what-the-hell-was-that? moments in their discography.

So Kath and his ode to inaccessible canned meat stand out as a rare off-the-wall moment. While it’s far from my favorite Chicago tune, I can’t think of it without smiling.

4. The grunge. Kath was also responsible for another bizarre and unique song that stands out in the band’s repertoire.

“Free Form Guitar,” from the Chicago Transit Authority album, consists of almost seven minutes of atonal live-in-the-studio feedback and whammy-bar abuse.

It is — how best to put this? — a bracing listen, and an acquired taste. While I don’t put it on a lot, I do like it, and I suspect Jimi Hendrix — who is often said to have been an admirer of Kath — would have said the same.

Kath was also capable of adding dissonance within the structures of the band’s more formal compositions.

Song For Richard And His Friends,” from the At Carnegie Hall live album, features Kath wrenching howls of feedback over an ominous horn riff. And “A Hit By Varese” kicks off the band’s finest album, Chicago V, with a whammy-bent chord that dissolves into feedback.

5. The memories. Chicago keyboardist and singer Robert Lamm has spoken often of his connection with Kath and his ongoing feelings of loss. A few years ago, he recorded a song, “Out Of The Blue,” in tribute to his former bandmate.

Lamm contributes a heartfelt vocal that helps make up for the song’s slick electronic sheen. And his words describing Kath’s ongoing presence in his life — presented in the video as captions — are touching.

It’s one of the best things I’ve heard from Lamm in a while. If it’s true that you write best about what you love, it’s clear that Terry Kath left a deep impression on those closest to him.

A base ball excursion.

Another of the random perseverations I tend to write when it’s not baseball season.

Imagine taking a job knowing ahead of time that only the most superhuman of success will prevent your prompt dismissal — and the clock starts anew every year.

I was thinking about that today while wading through the latest round of chatter about Philadelphia’s sports teams.

The Phillies managing job pretty much ate the well-regarded Ryne Sandberg alive; he was let go late last season. Now the pundits have moved on to call for the dismissal of Eagles coach Chip Kelly, apparently for the eternal sin of being unable to win big with modest talent.

It turns out that a guy with local ties tackled the challenge of managing in Philadelphia earlier than almost everyone else. This being a temperate day off, and thoughts of baseball very much with me, I decided to track him down.

Unlike today’s managers, Lew Simmons did not come to the dugout after years of experience with hit-and-runs, double plays and pitching changes.

Instead, he came to baseball from the blackface minstrel-show stage. According to a book called Monarchs of MinstrelsySimmons began as a blackface performer in Ohio in 1849 and became a hit performer in Philadelphia in the 1860s and 1870s, operating his own minstrel company and touring abroad.

Simmons did well enough to buy in, around 1881, as a partner in the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association.

(This was the second team to do business as the Philadelphia Athletics. The familiar Philadelphia A’s of Connie Mack, founded in 1901, were the fourth. What we know today as major league baseball traces its roots to 1871, so Simmons was in on the ground floor.)

The A’s main owner at the time, Bill Sharsig, was a theater producer who likely knew Simmons from the world of Philadelphia stages.

While Sharsig also lacked an on-the-field baseball background — at least, in the modern Ryne Sandberg sense — he served as field manager of his own team for parts of four seasons.

John Shiffert’s book Base Ball in Philadelphia indicates that the Athletics’ business partners tended to rotate front-office roles from year to year. That, presumably, is how former minstrel showman Simmons was at the helm of the team when it opened the 1886 season against the New York Metropolitans.

Simmons’s A’s won that first game, 10-3, and the rookie leader managed to keep his team at or above .500 through the end of June. On May 2, they played a 19-19 tie against Brooklyn that must have been a sight to see.

But the losses stacked up in July and August. And, although the Athletics won their last five games under Simmons, he was either fired or agreed to rotate out of the job on Aug. 25, with a 41-55 managerial record.

Sharsig took over the rest of the year, posting a 22-17 record. All told, the A’s finished sixth in an eight-team league.

(The 1886 Athletics’ noteworthy players included rookie catcher Wilbert Robinson, later to be the longtime manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers; second baseman Louis Bierbauer, whose signing by the Pittsburgh National League team would cause them to be nicknamed the Pirates; and pitcher Al Atkinson, who started 45 games and completed 44.)

Simmons never returned to the dugout. Shiffert’s book says Sharsig bought out his partners after the 1887 season, ending the vaudevillian’s connection to the fledgling world of major league baseball.

Monarchs of Minstrelsy, meanwhile, says Simmons returned to the stage in the early 1890s and was still performing as of 1910, when the book was written.

Simmons died at age 73 in Reading, Pa., September 1911. According to various sources, he is buried in Fairview Cemetery on the south side of Allentown. I decided to go look him up there; it seemed like an interesting excursion for a day off.

Fairview Cemetery is not the best-maintained graveyard I’ve ever visited. Falling branches have caused havoc in one area of the grounds, and every section is plagued by sliding or buckling stones, occasional bursts of overgrowth, a reluctance on the part of the lawnmower to clean off the stones afterward, and the occasional grim sunken patch.

(It’s enough to remind a visitor that one of the great horror movies of all time begins in a real-life Pennsylvania cemetery — not this one, but one out in the western part of the state, not tremendously far from Lew Simmons’s birthplace.)

I found a baseball, of all things — a blue-and-white child’s novelty model — but in a walk that took in every path on the grounds, I couldn’t find Lew Simmons’s gravesite.

I tried a building or two at the front of the property, but no one was there. I tried some Googling, in case a full list of burials had been posted online by some resourceful genealogist, but no luck there either.

If Lew Simmons is there, he perhaps has a flat stone, or one that has been undermined by the forces of time.

Or perhaps he is rested far from even the dedicated searcher, in some peaceful corner.

That would be fitting. Anyone who has managed a ballclub in Philadelphia has earned a quiet rest.

A tale of two Todds.

I guess it says something ungood when you’re thinking about the concert you saw last night and you keep mentally noodling on the visual imagery, rather than the sounds.

I blame Todd Rundgren. It might not be entirely his fault … but he’s used to people blaming him for weird stuff, so he can take it.

At the Keswick Theatre last night (it’s just outside Philly), Rundgren and company played their show against a backdrop of one of the best-known pictures of TR ever taken.

It’s from the inside of his most successful album, 1972’s Something/Anything?  The photo shows him from the back, in silhouette, standing in the improvised L.A. home studio where he cut parts of the record, and throwing a Nixonian V-for-victory sign as if millions of worshipful record buyers were standing right outside his window.

IMG_1304

Rundgren’s between-song patter early in the show poked fun at fans “who have been in a coma for 40 years” — that is, those who reject his other musical paths and continue to demand the easy-to-like commercial pop of Something/Anything?

And yet, there he was, rear and center, larger than life, an omnipresent ghost for the entire show: Plucky Pop Todd, the very embodiment of the Rundgren those fans adore.

PPT has been following his real-life doppelganger around for longer than I’ve been alive. I guess Rundgren decided to put him up there as an acknowledgement of his inevitable presence, and a sop to those fossilized but still loyal fans:

OK, you guys still buy tickets to my shows, which is pretty much the biggest source of cash flow at this point in my career. I’ll give you the Young Todd you like. You want the obvious, you’ll get the obvious.

IMG_1318

Of course, Today’s TR played pretty much the whole show with his back turned to Plucky Pop Todd. Whether that’s a simple consequence of stage design or a subliminal personal statement is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

Rundgren’s contrarian refusal to play to the masses has actually set him up with a nice degree of flexibility. His set list is not weighed down with hits he must play, so he’s free to cherry-pick from throughout his career for most of the show.

(Having fulfilled the unwritten requirement that any Todd Rundgren piece contain the word “contrarian,” I must also provide a little bit of background. When TR is not touring in support of a new album, he does a not-quite-greatest-hits show that mixes his handful of true chestnuts with his own selection of tunes from his back catalog. That’s what I saw last night. So, no two hours of Swedish electronica or bossa nova.)

To keep the PPT fans happy, he played four songs from Something/Anything?, as well as a blistering version of “Open My Eyes,” by his old Philly group the Nazz.

“Hello It’s Me” seems kinda perfunctory at this point, and the audience has to pretty much carry the chorus.

But “I Saw The Light” was charming; “Black Maria” showed off Rundgren’s lead guitar chops; and being in a room full of Rundgrenites when the man plays “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” remains thing of beauty and a joy forever.

The rest was a well-played if somewhat random grab bag of tunes from Rundgren’s past, including (off the top of my head) “Love In Action” from 1977’s Oops! Wrong Planet; a double shot of “Lysistrata” and “One World” from 1982’s political-minded Swing to the Right; “Sometimes I Don’t Know What To Feel” and part of the smoove Philly-soul medley from 1973’s A Wizard/A True Star“Determination” from 1978’s The Hermit of Mink Hollow; the inevitable “Bang The Drum All Day” from 1983’s The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect; “Love Science” from 1991’s 2nd Wind; and “God Said” from 2004’s Liars.

Lysistrata” — disarming power-pop in its studio incarnation, more hard-rocky at the Keswick — provided a platform for the night’s other bit of noteworthy stage patter.

After explaining the song’s mythical backstory, TR mentioned that “the U.S. military has recently opened all combat roles to women…”

oh, shit, I thought, current affairs. Here comes something wingnutty.

— and then he expressed his concern that “if the women get a taste for the warrin’, the men will have to withhold sex from the women to get them to stop … and THAT’s not freakin’ happening. We don’t have the willpower, and the warring will continue forever. So don’t join the military, girls.”

About a minute after he said that, I saw a young-looking woman march up the aisle in a hurry; I imagined her to be a mortally offended staff sergeant on leave.

Truth was, though, that not too many people in the room were of mustering age.

In a pre-show interview, Rundgren lamented that his fan base was “dying, literally;” I thought he was being dramatic, but the gray hair scattered throughout the Keswick convinced me he was telling the truth. Apparently, TR is a taste too esoteric to be passed down through generations, and most of the people still on his train have been there for decades.

It will be interesting to watch how this most roguish of pop singers handles that continued process.

Will he be forced to channel Mike Love and perform more of the “hits” just to make sure people keep coming?

Or will people past 60 — not usually those who go in for change and unpredictability — remain willing to buy tickets to see him without really knowing what they’re going to hear?

The evidence to date suggests that, as long as his voice holds out (and it’s pretty good, all in all), Rundgren’s journey will continue to draw enough ticket buyers to fill theaters.

Although it doesn’t hurt to run Plucky Pop Todd up the flagpole just to make them feel at home.