By photojournalist Jeffrey Moellering
Veteran rocker Todd Rundgren appeared for two nights at the historic Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater on October 24th and 25th, in support of “The Individualist, A True Star” tour, which had been postponed for over a year due to the Covid pandemic. He performed the first side of his 1973 mindbender, “A Wizard, a True Star” on the opening night, and the second side on the following evening.
The show was divided into two sets, the first set being a lively jaunt through his well-known, crowd-pleasing classics, and the second set being one full side from the “Wizard” album, which at the time was received as a curiosity because Rundgren was previously known primarily for his love ballads, and the sprawling electronics and psychedelic content of the album puzzled fans and critics alike. Decades later, it’s now considered a classic, and Rundgren wanted the opportunity to play the album in its entirety, complete with costumes in a theatrical fashion.
During the first set, Todd provided anecdotes from his “Individualist” book biography to accompany the songs, discussing artistic inspirations and progression throughout his career. He remains the consummate performer, and is still vigorous now at 73, as a vocalist, instrumentalist, and active songwriter. It is often said that “musicians play”, and even though Rundgren could retire to a comfortable life at his island home in Hawaii, he stays busy and engaged, typically visiting Tampa Bay at least once per year.
His polished backing band of professionals included long time touring drummer Prairie Prince, famous for his tenure with The Tubes, whose albums Rundgren has produced, bassist Kasim Sulton, who has played with Todd for decades in his band and Rundgren’s Utopia, Bobby Strickland on sax and keys, Gil Assayas on keys, and longtime guitarist Jesse Gress. All the bandmembers besides the drummer Prince are also excellent backing vocalists, who really add depth to Rundgren’s layered compositions.
After the spirited first set of classics, Rundgren cycled through several costume changes and acted out his songs almost like a Broadway play, with large screen video accompaniment behind adding to the storytelling quality. Characters included an astronaut, hobo, corpulently obese man and other oddities, as he pranced around the stage delivering the intricate tales of the “Wizard” album, which was inspired by Rundgren’s experimentation with psychedelic drugs at the time. While the “Wizard” album is as idiosyncratic as it was nearly 50 years ago, it has worn the test of time, and the labyrinthian multi-track studio songs from the album no doubt took many hours of rehearsal to accurately perform with a live band.
After nearly two and a half hours of music, the Clearwater crowd was
ecstatic and fulfilled with the always affable Rundgren’s performance, who comes across as a guy you could have a casual dinner with and discuss mundane daily issues like a longtime friend. This tour is being held while Rundgren is finally being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an honor for which his fans have pleaded for years, for which was finally bestowed. Todd has eschewed the distinction, refusing to break up his tour dates to attend the induction ceremony, but said that he was happy for his fans. Given Rundgren’s tireless dedication and relentless pursuit of his musical craft, his loyal following will no doubt continue to be rewarded with many worthy performances to come, as he shows no signs of slowing down.
The “Individualist / True Star” tour provided ample proof that Todd Rundgren is indeed a supremely worthy member in the hallowed halls of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the devoted Rundgren disciples will continue coming out every time he rolls through Tampa Bay.