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Interview:
Todd Rundgren predicts virtual concert tour will be 'the new normal'
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Todd Rundgren has spent more than 50 years being ahead of the curve as a recording artist, a producer and video pioneer.



So it should come as no surprise that his Clearly Human Virtual Tour, a 25-date affair launching Sunday, Feb. 14, comes from an idea he's been cooking up since well before a global pandemic shut down the live music industry. But it took that, and several postponements of Rundgren's own planned tour dates during 2020, to take the concept off the drawing board and onto screens.



"I had already been thinking about other ways to deliver my product," Rundgren, 73, says by phone from his home on Kuwai, "and then the pandemic happened and that kind of made everybody else think that possibly a different way of doing this might be good to have for a backup plan.



"My tour was moved, like, three times because nobody knew what the trajectory of (the virus) was going to be. So when it got moved again I asked the promoters if they would allow me to try this virtual touring experiment that I felt was ultimately inevitable."



Rundgren was inspired by other factors prior to the pandemic, however.



"Y'know, sitting in an airport and waiting for a flight that never arrives so you can get to the gig on time, or floods and fires and all the other natural disasters that seem to be more commonplace because of changes to the climate — all that kind of stuff got me thinking," Rundgren explains. "This is the new normal. This may not be the last time that we have a killer flu or a biological catastrophe that upends the world, and when that happens we'll be in this situation again."



It's the latest adventure in what's been a long and eventful career for the Pennsylvania native. Rundgren began his recording career in 1968 with the Nazz and went solo two years later, making some of his key albums —"Something/Anything?," "A Wizard, A True Star," "Hermit of Mink Hollow" — entirely on his own. He also led the band Utopia and has produced and engineered hit albums for Meat Loaf, Grand Funk Railroad, The Band, Hall & Oates, the New York Dolls, XTC and more. He was also an early adapter and pioneer in music video, and last summer he hosted a virtual variety show, "The Todd's Honest Truth."



Last week, meanwhile, Rundgren, received a third nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.



For the Clearly Human Virtual Tour, Rundgren and company have based in Chicago, where they'll stream each of the concerts through NoCap Shows. Fans can buy tickets for any of the 25, but each will be "localized" to a different city, staring with Buffalo and continuing through March 22 in Seattle. Rundgren says that clocks around the venue will be set to the time of the city the group is "playing in" that night, and "we'll dress up all of the backstage with local newspapers and other local stuff, just to sort of convince ourselves that we ARE in that place."



He also plans to bring in indigenous food specialties — Coney Island hot dogs from Detroit, for instance — or have local caterers create those dishes.



"The entire back of the stage will be a video wall, and we can simulate aspects of the local venue in the city we're 'playing' in that night," Rundgren explains. "We can put scenes and landmarks from each town to sort of reinforce the locality. So instead of looking at some sort of generic splash-screen before the show starts it'll be more like being at a gig in your city.



"Everything that we do is essentially an attempt to convince people that they're actually in the local venue as opposed to just watching a TV show."



Another benefit of the virtual tour is that thanks to reduced travel costs — no moving from city to city — Rundgren has been able to put together a larger band, which will include horns and backup singers. It will, in fact, emulate the ensemble he took out to promote his 1989 album "Nearly Human" — which he'll be playing in its entirety during the concerts.



"It's a big show," he says, "and under normal circumstances it's probably too expensive for me to take around. When I first did it, it was in the good old days when I still had a record deal with Warner Bros. and they gave me tour support. Nowadays taking myself plus 10 people around everywhere would be prohibitive, but since we're all in the same place I don't have to worry about transporting everybody and I can do a bigger production — not only in terms of number of people in the band but effects and other things that would require a lot of trucking.



"Now that we're not traveling, it's a lot easier for us to blow the show up bigger."



While in Chicago, Rundgren, band and crew will be largely quarantined between the performance site and the hotel, with COVID-19 testing and other protocols in place. A limited number of in-person tickets may be sold for the shows, depending on local stipulations and capacity restrictions. Certain virtual tickets, meanwhile, will put fans' images on a video screen in the venue, allowing for a degree of interaction with Rundgren and the band.



But the main focus and challenge will be playing "into the black hole," where the majority of fans "attending" the shows will be watching.



"That was one principle reason we wanted to do this kind of show," says Rundgren, who's been releasing singles from a new album, "Space Force," that he plans to release later this year. "We can't do a show that's artsy or dour. It's got to be fun, ’cause people are so depressed being stuck at home. This is essential a revue — fast-paced, show-bizzy, singing and dancing and just having as much fun as we can on behalf of our isolated audience.



"And once we see how this works, I'm sure we'll have a lot more ideas because, like I said before, this IS the new normal. I'll go back on the road when it's OK to do that, but I'm fairly certain we'll be doing this kind of (virtual) thing again in the future."



Todd Rundgren's Clearly Human Virtual Tour launches Sunday, Feb. 14. The Detroit "stop" on the tour is Feb. 23. Tickets start at 35 via nocapshows.com.

Web Site: www.nocapshows.com

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