November 25, 2009

Aloha from Hawaii: the HCTF Todd Rundgren interview

Tdd Rundgren (c) Jean Lannen
photo: Jean Lannen

Todd Rundgren has been busy performing his classic A Wizard, A True Star album in full. Originally planned as a one-off show in London in February 2010, the production was brought to the States by fans who didn't want to (or couldn't) make the trip to England and demanded (in a polite way) that the show was staged on their side of the big pond. Rundgren played seven shows on a five cities tour in September .

He will be touring the US West Coast again in December before bringing the tour to a close (for now) with shows in London and Amsterdam in February. The performances were received quite well. The staging involves a lot of costume changes - his wardrobe is designed by his wife Michele - and theatrical props to act out the different characters of the album. Video is being used to underpin some aspects of the show most notably using footage of George Bush walking into a locked door.

Todd Rundgren lives on Kauai, Hawaii. HCTF spoke with Mr. Rundgren on the phone.

Performing complete albums has become popular recently. Whose idea was it to perform A Wizard, A True Star in full?
"When I was in England last year for the Arena tour my English promoter asked me to do something special and suggested A Wizard, A True Star. A lot of the younger UK artists had been mentioning the album as a big influence and samples of it turned on their records. So the promoter suggested to to stage a production of the original. When the news broke fans in the States clamored that they wanted to see it too and so those shows happened over there. They did their utmost to promote it and we only had to show up basically, taking care of the production and the logistics."

Todd Rundgren: A Wizard, A True Star

Technology has moved forward big time since the release of the album in 1973. Is this making things easier to replicate the songs on stage?
"Back then we didn't have samples. We cobbled the sounds together in the studio in anyway we could. We recorded the album just before the synthesizer arrived and became affordable. We did a lot of treatments. Nowadays most of those sounds and effects are built into the instruments."
"There is a song on the album - Dogfight Giggle - that is basically noise. No need to play that, so we play the tape and I can cut to a little video presentation. I started experimenting with video in the Seventies, when it was very expensive to use."

You made changes of the running order of the album when you play it in concert. Why is that?
"It was released on vinyl - there were no CD's back then, so I had to deal with the cut between the two sides which had consequences for the running order. I still wanted it to come off as a theatrical show. Is It My Name? is a good rock song, but it's not a sensible song to end the show with before my traditional encore Just One Victory. So I moved When The Shit Hits The Fan/Sunset Blvd and Le Feel Internationale to the end of the set to reprise the album's start."

Todd Rundgren (c) Lynn Goldsmith
© Lynn Goldsmith

Just like Sgt. Pepper?
"That makes it's more Sgt. Peppery, yes. I have been performing Just One Victory as my encore for years and years. The audience know it's all over after that. No need to ask for more after I have played that (laughs)."

Your former band Utopia was the opening act on some of the USA shows, although it wasn't billed as such. Is that going to happen again?
"It made sense when three of members of the band were on stage, but we won't be doing it again. Roger Powell is not coming to Europe. He is no longer a professional musician - he is a computer programmer now and he doesn't want to travel. Fortunately we have an excellent replacement. Ralph Schuckett, who played on the original A Wizard, A True Star album, will be joining us."

So what are you going to play besides "Wizard"? You could do the Pink Floyd thing and play two albums. Your latest studio album Arena before intermission and then AWATS.
"That happened on some occasions. It could happen again, but we like to keep the element of surprise for the audience. Then again, we will be performing next week, so the cat will be out of the bag soon."

Arena was performed in sequence. How did that come about?
"That happened because of the time aspects. I turned 60 last year and there was a huge party here on the island that lasted two weeks. We decided to perform and the band learned the songs one by one in sequence. It was pre-produced that way. We had a world premiere of the songs for the guests on my birthday. We took it on the road before the album came out and exposed the audience to one hour of music they hadn't heard before, which was a bit of challenge for them."

Todd Rundgren: A Wizard, A True Star poster

A Wizard, A True Star dates:

  • 12/01 San Francico, CA - Palace of Fine Arts Theatre
  • 12/02 Sacramento, CA - Crest Theatre
  • 12/04 Los Angeles, CA - Orpheum Theatre
  • 12/05 Ventura, CA - Majestic Theatre
  • 02/06 London, UK - HMV Hammersmith Apollo
  • 02/08 Amsterdam, The Netherlands - Paradiso


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