He can pooh-pooh it all he wants, but it’s official. Todd Rundgren is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And while he’s acquiesced on bashing the institution as to not rain on his fans or cohorts’ parade, as the induction ceremonies were taking place in Cleveland, Rundgren was in another Ohio city just doing what he does–playing for his fans. Him actually showing up was totally out of the question, and nothing came of his offer to do a via satellite performance during the proceedings, to acknowledge the moment and honor his fans. No matter what happened that night, and regardless if Rundgren eschews the Hall because he isn’t retired and doesn’t want to rest on his laurels, extolling his legacy, make no mistake, he is still a living legend with a legacy that deserves to be recognized and celebrated.
And celebrate his fans did, at the Belasco in Downtown, Los Angeles, where the multi-hyphenate (multi-instrumentalist, writer, producer, video artist, music video producer, software developer, author, professor and philanthropist, etc.) rock star gave one of the most accessible-yet-unpredictable setlists in years. There were plenty of welcome surprises on this continuation of his Individualist a True Star tour (which was put on hold last year for obvious pandemic reasons), but there was also a stacked playlist of greatest hits, followed by a second set of the first side of his cult concept album A Wizard, A True Star. That little cult album from 1973 was massively influential to acts like Tame Impala, Daft Punk, and Ariel Pink (among many others who geeked-out on synths and gear in studios), and was the even more quirky and bizarre left-turn after his breakthrough solo release Something/Anything the year prior. That record, which was very well represented tonight (though some of us would have died for a “Wolfman Jack!”), solidified his reputation as a power pop pioneer (as he established in his first band Nazz), as well as boasted his ability to churn out hits with Brill Building perfection, but it also laid the ground work for the more progressive/synthesized offerings of the future.
He followed that muse to the max with A Wizard, because as Todd told us when Music Connection interviewed him for our April 2020 cover story, and as he reiterated again to the audience tonight, he already proved that he could make well-crafted, singer-songwriter hits and was tired of all the Carole King comparisons (as fate would have it, he entered the Hall of Fame class of 2021 with none other than Carole King). Been there, done that, but could he make a Synthesizer tribute to Peter Pan with some Philly Soul on mescaline? Actually, yes.
Playing one side or the other of A Wizard each night means that depending on which night you catch the show you’re either getting the more synth, hard rock-meets psychedelic pop of side one (what we got), or side two, which features a fantastic Philly Soul-doo-wop medley, a la Frank Zappa’s Cruising with Reuben and the Jets, (which they get tomorrow).
The Belasco is a beautiful venue just a couple doors down from the Mayan, another Live Nation joint built in Spanish Renaissance style at the same time by the same architect. The walls and ceilings are ornate and plush, and it’s got a capacity of about 1500, so the setting was both intimate and inviting. The show opened up with a little fanfare. Literally. With “How About a Little Fanfare” and “I Think You Know,” the opening two tracks from 1974’s self-titled Todd, his fifth album, and the one that came after A Wizard. While the setlist was eclectic, it was not all over the place as Todd performed several songs from several albums, which by no means covered or even tried to represent his catalog. Aside from the opening numbers from Todd, he went into a couple Nazz songs (“Open My Eyes” and “Hello it’s Me”) then tracks from about ten LP’s from his discography, including “Everybody” from his most recent, Global.
Highlights for me was a blistering performance of “Black Maria” (from Something/Anything) and the cuts from 1975’s Initiation, which was revived in 2019 but laid dormant for several decades if not more. Absent from the setlist were any from his side band, Utopia, although his trusted friends from Utopia (plus one, Bobby Strickland on sax and keys) kicked some serious ass tonight. We’re talking about the one and only Kasim Sulton (bass), Prairie Prince (on drums, who Todd also produced when Prince was with The Tubes. They were also bandmates along with Sulton in The New Cars), Jesse Gress (incredibly tasty and shredadelic on guitar), and Gil Assayas (the youngest of the gang, who hails from Israel and is a wunderkind on synth).
The tour could have been called “An Evening with Todd Rundgren” as instead of stage show banter, Todd was a raconteur, telling us the stories behind the music, sometimes through song and visuals as he took us through his journey as a prodigy solo artist, prolific producer for hire, and other career highlights. But for me, perhaps the music performance was a reminder that he truly is a sonic wizard, it was his performance and his abundance of costume changes (maybe ten or so!) and his committed theatricality that leaves no doubt, that he is also a star. This is a man who was right there with classic Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Elton John, and Alice Cooper, and he’s still doing it today! Still putting on a larger-than-life show (with the intimacy of cabaret/vaudeville) that could project to the nosebleeds at the Staples for a theater size crowd at the Belasco. It reminded you that not only is he a bonafide (should have been in first round) Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, but that Todd Rundgren is a living legend, and anyone is lucky to catch him, and should make a point to catch him, while he’s still out there doing it at this level.
How About a Little Fanfare?
I Think You Know
Open My Eyes
Hello Its Me
We Gotta Get You a Woman
I Saw the Light.
An Elpee’s Wirth of Toons
Too Far Gone
A Dream Goes on Forever
The Death of Rock and Roll
Can We Still Be Friends
Love of the Common Man
Couldn’t I Just Tell You
Tic Tic Tic It Wears Off