Todd Rundgren Brings Local Flavor to Clearly Human Virtual Tour

In one of those viral surveys that was going around Facebook recently, you were asked to list your concert history—first, best, worst, so on. One question was —which artist have you seen the most. For me, that’s Todd Rundgren. I’ve seen Todd perform live at least thirty-five times over the last forty years. I’ve seen him indoors, outdoors, solo, with Utopia, in Central Park, at classic venues like the Capitol Theater and the Pantages, even a sold-out arena show at the Spectrum where he did a somersault off the top of a golden pyramid, all while playing a guitar solo. 

But I’ve never seen him do a show quite like the one this weekend. 

It was the opening date of his Clearly Human virtual tour, which will feature 25 performances, each tailored to a different US city (itinerary below). The shows themselves are being streamed from a venue in Chicago, but “localized” to give the band and fans a sense of place. For example, local landmarks will appear on a video wall, catering for the band and crew will feature dishes associated with each city, and ticket purchases within the US will be initially limited to fans with zip codes that correspond to each show’s greater metropolitan area. 

“People are trying to compensate often by doing one big show and trying to get as much audience as possible,” Rundgren told Rolling Stone. “While that does unify the audience, it doesn’t give the audience that sense of special attention when you come to their town. At the same time, we have to try to figure out ways that as performers, we don’t wind up feeling like we’re doing a residence at a hotel.”

It’s a novel idea and one that could help build a bridge from our current quarantine back to the day—hopefully later this year—when we can all listen side by side in an actual venue again.

I signed on to the concert site at 7:55 pm, five minutes before showtime. There was a sparse, socially-distanced audience at the front of the theater, with plastic separators and empty seats filled by cardboard screenshot photos of a sampling of those attending virtually. In the chat bar, excited fans were already buzzing about what songs he might play and if he would play “Foamy,” his signature green Fernandes strat. At 8:01, the band walked out and launched into “Real Man,” a  classic from Todd’s 1975 album Initiation.  The song and the album title reference made the intent clear. Yes, this is a virtual show, a new concept, but we’re diving in together to make it as real as possible. As Todd sang, My world is something you can’t see, but it’s still very real to me.

And it was very real, without any of the tentative, static atmosphere that often mars quarantine shows. Todd’s 9-piece band (including longtime members Kasim Sulton and Prairie Prince) came to play. And move. On a spacious stage, with the guys decked out in matching pink dinner club jackets and three female backing singers in sequined Marvelettes-style dresses, there was a vintage soul revue flavor, with choreographed moves in sync with songs like “Love of the Common Man,” “Secret Society” and “Parallel Lines.” And up front, Todd, in black jeans and sparkly blazer, paced, danced and sang. He may be 72, but his voice is still supple and strong, soaring up into the falsetto stratosphere and stair-stepping down with Philly soul grace. 

“It’s been more than a year since we’ve played,” he said, taking a breath between songs. “So there may be a little bit of rust, a few cobwebs. We’re still working out the flow. But so far, no train wrecks, so let’s see how it goes!”

As the band dipped into Rundgren’s rich, decade-spanning catalog—“Feel It,” “Compassion,” “Waiting Game,” “Rock Love,” “Lost Horizon” were standouts—I was struck by the production value of the show. The sound mix was balanced and clear, and the colorful lighting and multi-camera angles gave the songs movement and intimacy. Really, it’s the first virtual concert I’ve seen where not only did my attention not wander from my screen, but I truly wished I was there. 

Tonight’s “there” was “Buffalo.” But aside from some photos of the city skyline and favorite spots on the video screen and mentions of “wings and sponge candy,” there wasn’t much to localize the show.  It’ll be interesting to see if the band customizes their set list from city to city. Also, based on what occurred in the chat bar, there were fans who’d snuck in from as far off as California, England and South Korea. As the song says, “you can’t stop love in action.”

This tour is called Clearly Human. While obviously a reference to the Nearly Human album which provided a third of tonight’s set list, it’s also a sly response to the “Todd is God” T- shirts that fans used to wear back in the ’70s. Superhuman talents aside, Todd always had too much of a sense of humor to rest on a rock deity’s throne. More accurately, Todd is an artist. In the truest sense of the word. Restless, ever-seeking, ever-evolving. And the virtual tour is the latest experiment in his boundary-pushing journey. 

“This will all be so much tighter by the time we get to Seattle,” Todd promised, with a laugh, after one of the rare flubs in the set.

Catch Todd and his band when they come to “your city.” 

Todd Rundgren Clearly Human 2021 Virtual Tour

Feb. 14 – Buffalo, N.Y.
Feb. 16 – Albany, N.Y.
Feb. 17 – New York City
Feb. 19 – Virginia Beach, Va.
Feb. 20 – Pittsburgh
Feb. 22 – Cleveland
Feb. 23 – Detroit
Feb. 25 – Indianapolis
Feb. 26 – Chicago
Feb. 28 – Madison / Milwaukee, Wis.
March 1 – Minneapolis
March 3 – Kansas City, Mo.
March 4 – St. Louis
March 6 – Nashville
March 7 – Dallas
March 9 – Houston
March 10 – Austin
March 12 – Denver
March 13 – Salt Lake City
March 15 – Phoenix
March 16 – San Diego
March 18 – Los Angeles
March 19 – San Francisco
March 21 – Portland, Ore.
March 22 – Seattle

SET LIST 2/14/21

“Real Man”
“Love of the Common Man”
“Secret Society”
“Something to Fall Back On”
“Parallel Lines”
“Unloved Children”
“Love in Action”
“Compassion”
“Can’t Stop Running”
“Waiting Game”
“The Smell of Money”
“God Said”
“Love Science”
“Feel It”
“Sweet”
“Change Myself”
“Can We Still Be Friends?”
“Lost Horizon”
“Rock Love”
“Hawking”
“For Want of a Nail”
“Hello It’s Me”
“I Love My Life”

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