The smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke hung heavily in the air. Teen-aged girls stood on stilettoheeled tippy toes and screamed. Harried waitresses balanced their drinks precarioulsy and scores of people draped themselves over the upstairs railing as flash bulbs exploded before the brightly lit stage.

The Bayou presented the first of its New Era Concerts Tuesday night, with an appearance by Todd Rundgren and Utopia. Regrettably, the show was less exciting than the crowd.

Rundgren is a truly derivative performer. From his debut some years ago as an imitation English Dandy Rocker to his space rock guise to his vaguely punkish appearance at Tuesday's show, he has alway preferred to follow trends rather than make them.

He is a capable hard-rocker, with his churning guitar lines and frail vocals producing a sort of pimple-faced charisma. But when he adds theatrics, such as a modern dancer and that old standby, the strobe light, his show descends from pretension to monotony.

Rundren and Utopia also lack the musical skill to support anything beyond a basic thrashing. The more complex songs seem strained, and Roger Powell's synthesizers resemble nothing more than a space-aged breakfast cereal that goes snap, crackle, whoosh.