Todd Rundgren has been many things over the course of his 40-plus years in the music business. Pop auteur; Singer-songwriter; Producer; leader of a progressive rock band; Anglophile; Artist eager to embrace technology; Leader in the move toward computer-based music-making; Balladeer; Hard rocker. The list needn’t necessarily stop here, for Rundgren, even in his later 60s, is an artist eager to embrace change and unceasing in his pursuit of artistic evolution.
Which means that he routinely runs the risk of alienating factions of his audience. On Tuesday, during a sold-out appearance at the Town Ballroom, Rundgren appeared to be doing just that. In fact, if anyone came to hear “the hits,” they quite likely left the venue disappointed.
Touring in support of his recent “Global” album, Rundgren appeared backed only by DJ/keyboardist Dam Funk, a pair of female backing vocalists/dancers, and an incredible LED-based light show, and proceeded to play an often rapturous set comprised wholly of electronic dance music of the house, techno and even dub-step variety. “Hello It’s Me” this was not – although Rundgren did perform that song, his biggest-ever hit, albeit in a radically reworked EDM arrangement.
Most of the lengthy set was culled from Rundgren’s most EDM-flavored releases, “Global,” “State” and “Liars,” with the occasional reworked blast from the past – the Utopia nugget “Secret Society,” the medley marrying “Can We Still Be Friends?/Hello It’s Me/I Saw the Light,” a gorgeous set-closing “Just One Victory” among them. Throughout, Rundgren danced –sometimes rather hilariously – alongside his pair of sing-dancers, grabbed a guitar for several searing solos, or simply manned the microphone and stalked the front of the stage, providing accompanying semaphores to emphasize his lyrics, and after a slightly rough start, singing with strength, vigor and passion.
If you hadn’t been paying attention to Rundgren’s activities – perhaps only catching recent full-band “hits” sets in town, or his performance as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band at Artpark last summer – you might’ve been in for a bit of a shock. However, employing electronic music as part of his available tool kit is nothing new for Rundgren – he’s been doing so for most of his career. When the “Todd does EDM” motif worked last night, it worked incredibly well. (“Global” tracks “Soothe” and “This Island Earth” were hair-raising highlights of the show, for example.) When it didn’t, it was still interesting and entertaining.
Whether you loved Tuesday’s show or felt otherwise, undeniably, Rundgren is to be commended for continuing to challenge himself and his audience. By bringing his estimable song-craft to a genre of music that often merely celebrates hedonism or venerates the clichéd and intellectually lazy, Rundgren offered yet another twist in his always interesting tale.