Rock legend Rundgren brings classic albums to StranahanWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
Most every concert is the same. Fans come to see musicians do their greatest hits, maybe a few tracks off the new album, the usual.
But Todd Rundgren is far from usual.
While the rock legend is used to doing traditional shows, in 2009 Rundgren first participated in a limited tour where he would perform one of his albums in its entirety, start to finish.
It began when he was approached by Rundgren Radio, a weekly online radio show devoted to all things him.
“They polled their audience and asked, ‘If Todd was to reproduce an album in its entirety, which one would you have him do?’ And it turned out they wanted me to do a record called “A Wizard, a True Star,” which I’d never performed before,” Rundgren said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star.
Rundgren made a “special event tour” of the “Wizard” performances, which began on Labor Day 2009. Due to the size and cost of the elaborate production, only about 10 shows were performed in the United States, with another two in Europe soon after.
The “Wizard” shows were very well-received by fans, so in 2010 the folks at Rundgren Radio came calling again.
“They approached me and said, ‘Well, we want you to do two records now, “Todd” and “Healing’.” And one of those is a double record. So they’re getting greedy now,” Rundgren joked.
The “Todd” and “Healing” performances once more began on Labor Day and, once more, a very limited tour followed. But fan demand has led to more dates being added, including a stop in Toledo on March 30 at the Stranahan Theater.
“Sometimes it’s one of those things where people hear about it after the fact and say, ‘Ooh, ooh, I wish I had gone to that.’ But now, the word has spread enough, so whoever it is that we didn’t manage to rope in the first time, we’ll try and get them this time.”
Getting a production like the full album performances up and running again can be daunting, especially given how elaborate they are — each show is crammed with special effects, a bigger band, more costumes and, for this tour, a full choir.
“It’s certainly a logistical challenge to a degree, but surprisingly has worked out well for us so far,” Rundgren said.
Rundgren was responsible for the basic design of each performance, and said that this time around he learned from what worked and what didn’t in the “Wizard” performances. While those shows were certainly a spectacle, he said, the result was a space that felt crowded with equipment.
“On these shows, I kinda took the opposite approach. The nature of the music is that there are various combinations of people sometimes, and then I do various bits that are very stripped down and kinda almost extended solo sections. And I thought, instead of having the stage completely crammed with stuff all the time — whether somebody was playing it or not — I wanted to leave the stage completely open and just have people come on only when they were playing.”
The changes were also inspired by the content of the two albums Rundgren will re-create — 1974’s “Todd” and 1981’s “Healing.” While both are evocative of eras of his work, they seem to have little in common musically. Even Rundgren seemed a little stumped as to why fans chose those two albums to be performed in tandem.
“The ‘Todd’ album was from right in the depths of my most psychedelic era. It was the album that followed ‘A Wizard, a True Star,’ and had many of the elements that we were sort of experimenting with on ‘A Wizard, a True Star,’” Rundgren said.
“I find that it is less of a leap to go from ‘A Wizard, a True Star’ to ‘Todd’ than it is to go from ‘Todd’ to ‘Healing,’ I have no idea why they did that. But ‘Healing’ is a record that I never performed, and that may be the distinction.”
Rundgren also noted how the crowd reacts differently to the “Todd” and “Healing” performances than they did on the “Wizard” tour.
“There’s something about the music that puts the audience in a different mood. It’s not as if it’s less intense, but they’re just in a different place. It’s interesting to gauge the reaction the different types of presentation garner in the audience.”
Perhaps it’s also the chance to hear the albums presented as a whole piece, rather than broken into chunks, that pleases Rundgren’s fans most of all. He noted the passing of an era where listening to a record was an event, rather than background noise.
“We used to make time to listen to music. It was our ultimate, alternative entertainment. I remember when I went out to be a musician, we all went to each other’s houses to listen to music, and we never watched television,” Rundgren said. “Now, there’s just so many different forms of entertainment, and all of it deliverable right to your iPhone or whatever. So the kind of special nature of the listening experience has kinda, for most of the audience, has drifted into history.”
But for Rundgren, there are few regrets —and that includes the fact that he has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a snub that he said bothers him “not at all.”
“I don’t think about it. I’ve always had misgivings about the concept, about music that is essentially supposed to be anti-establishment getting its establishment. Having an official building, official awards — it’s all official now. In that sense, I don’t place any more value on a nod from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than I would on some other award, like a Grammy.”
Rundgren said he is hesitant to bow to any classification — even those who would refer to him as a “rock artist.”
“What it’s supposed to do is upset your parents. And if it doesn’t upset your parents, it’s not rock ’n’ roll. The problem is, now it’s our parents’ music.”