If you weren’t fortunate enough to catch Utopia during its 2018 reunion, bassist Kasim Sulton has you covered. His latest project, Kasim Sulton’s Utopia, is coming to Buffalo on March 8 for an evening of rock, pop, and prog classics played exactly the way you remember.
I caught up with Sulton earlier this week to talk about the tour and why the music of Utopia continues to resonate with audiences 35 years after the last studio album was released. As someone who has only ever seen him with Todd Rundgren’s solo band and Blue Öyster Cult, I can’t wait to see how he leads his own band through this material.
MNOD: What inspired you to organize a tour of the Utopia catalog on your own?
KS: Well, Utopia had been broken up for the longest time and we finally got back together in 2018 for a quick run of shows. I spent years playing with those guys, but you never really know how the reunion will go until you’re in the middle of it. The tour was really well-received and everyone said that Todd, Willie, and I sounded better than ever, so I thought that bringing these songs back out on the road with my own project was a nice way to give back to the fans who had been so loyal to us. I got back into the Todd world in the ’90s and toured with him while also contributing to his solo records, but I never got tired of the question of Utopia getting back together. A lot of what I’ve learned as a musician I learned while being in that band and I wanted to bring these songs out again and do them right.
MNOD: Utopia released 10 studio albums between 1974 and 1985. How do you pick what material you’ll be playing each night?
KS: There are a few songs I’ll be playing on this tour that Utopia didn’t get around to during the reunion, but there’s only so much you can pack into a two-hour show. Todd wanted to celebrate the band’s entire career in 2018, not just the ’76-’85 period when I was in the band. There will also be some songs that have never been played live before such as “Fix Your Gaze” from P.O.V.
MNOD: “Mimi Gets Mad” is a great cut from “P.O.V.” that doesn’t get talked about a lot. Will that find its way into the set?
KS: We’re not playing it on this leg, but there’s always a chance that we’ll add it in later on.
MNOD: When the idea for this tour first arose, how easy was it for you to assemble the band you’ll be playing with?
KS: When I decided to do it, I spoke with the guys to see if they could keep 3-4 weeks open for me in February and March. I have Gil Assayas on keyboards, who took over for Ralph Shuckett on the 2018 Utopia tour, and a great drummer named Andy Ascolese, who has been playing with me for a while. Our guitarist was originally going to be Jesse Gress, but he became ill in December and wasn’t going to be ready for the tour. He won’t be with us this time, but his replacement is Bruce McDaniel, who was in The Ed Palermo Big Band and is a great player.
MNOD: Utopia is considered a groundbreaking project when it comes to production and the use of video technology. What is the legacy of the band for you?
KS: Personally, I’ve talked with a lot of people over the years, and I’m always honored when they say how much the band meant to them. I was only with them for 9 or 10 years, but my contribution to the band has always been appreciated by real musicians. The highest compliment for me is when I talk to guys like Richie Sambora or Paul Gilbert and they tell me how much they loved my work in Utopia.
MNOD: What was it about the chemistry between you guys that worked so well?
KS: That’s the mystery. We’ve all done things outside of Utopia, but there was something about our work together that stands out to people. Having said that, Todd has obviously had a brilliant solo career and was successful in many different areas, so it would be unfair of me to say that the success of Utopia wasn’t duplicated. We all our own talents within the band, and, when we came together, that’s when the magic happened. People often wonder why Daryl Hall was never hugely successful outside of Hall & Oates and the reason is that there was something about that pairing that worked like nothing else could. What they did together was greater than the sum of the parts. My solo music is important and I’m always working on things, but the magic of Utopia was real.
MNOD: When you reunited in 2018, did that chemistry come right back or did it take a little to get into the swing of things?
KS: Yeah, it was a challenge. I think in 1992, we did a short Japanese tour, but even that was 26 years before that. We had to re-learn a bunch of stuff and shake the cobwebs off. After our initial rehearsal, I remember thinking ‘Oh god, what did we do?,’ but playing music is what we’ve all done since our 20s and 30s, so we just had to get back on that bicycle.
MNOD: What was the biggest difference between Utopia and the other bands you’ve played with?
KS: Utopia was a true working democracy. We were all equal partners and had a say in what happened withing the confines of the band. When I played with Joan Jett, it was whatever Joan wanted to do. When I played with Meat Loaf, it was whatever Meat Loaf wanted to do. They made all the decisions, because that was the nature of the group. Utopia was different, because we all contributed to the overall product.
MNOD: Is there an album from Utopia that you believe separates itself from the pack?
KS: I would say that ‘Oblivion’ is my favorite. Songs like ‘Too Much Water,’ ‘Love With a Thinker,’ ‘I Will Wait,’ and Crybaby’ are all excellent. A lot people will say that ‘Adventures in Utopia’ is their favorite, because it was the biggest selling record. But, for me, ‘Oblivion’ is the best.
Kasim Sulton’s Utopia plays The Tralf Music Hall on March 8.
Showtime is 8:00 p.m. See http://www.tralfmusichall.com or http://www.kasimsulton.com for details.