Todd Rundgren, Master of the Unpredictable
Updated: May 4
Show review from The Chapel, SF August 30, 2017.
Todd Rundgren...an artist I never considered going to see, became the surprise of the week for me. I entered a completely packed Chapel in San Francisco about ten minutes late to the start of the show. Surprised at how packed it was, I made my way upstairs to catch a glimpse of the audience and stage in its entirety. Not only was I surprised at The Chapel being at capacity for this show but the shows title , "Unpredictable" was apropos of the evening that I was about to experience.
As predictable as some artists are...that is how unpredictable this man was tonight. And I told him so! Tom Petty, who I saw a few days prior to this show (2017), is a fairly predictable live show. Many of the same hits in every setlist, polite and a solid performer. Nothing wrong with that, and I love Petty.
I heard from the many fans I spoke to that night that Rundgren is always good. But unpredictable is a Rundgren trait, apparentley. And wow, I was pleasantly surprised. I went with the idea that I'd shoot a few shots and go, as I worked all day and drove to the city after 8 hours at my day job, and this was the second event of the night. But, Todd Rundgren was so adorable, funny and charming in his demeanor, both on and off stage, I didn't leave. It wasn't until I met him after the show upstairs in the green room, that I saw the genuine correlation with the man I saw onstage, to the man who sat with me after the show, that kept me there for the entire two+ hours.
Music ranged from Lorne Green twang to prog to Weezers' "Hash Pipe". Starting with Utopias' "Lysistrata," the first of the 22 songs of the night. And surprisingly, Monty Pythons' "The Meaning of Life" and The Proclaimers, "500 Miles" in the middle, that were all beautifully executed. An unusual set, indeed. These are the ingredients of his show that kept me there. Intrigued to see what will come next...I love that about live music and sometimes it even happens in radio. If a radio station can keep me listening simply with the intrigue of whats coming up next...its special. As a side note, to those of you reading this, that also appreciate that same quality in your radio station....WXRT in Chicago is one of those few remaining stations without a concrete predictable format. It's for sure, one of my all time favorite stations on the air today. This Rundgren show was just that...so very unpredictable. For Rundgren fans it was nothing out of the ordinary. Upon speaking to several Rundgren fans that night, they all seem to agree that this artist is one of the more entertaining live artists to see. I would've never thought this, but now I too, agree...he is someone to catch.
Rundgren is so unpredictable, not only to the concert goers, but also to his bandmates! Afterwards, backstage, whilst chatting to his guitarist Jesse Gress, he told me that during the show, Todd mouthed "Patches" to him as the next song coming up, and Jesse thought Todd said, "Compassion" so he began playing "Compassion," the song he thought was next. A slight imperfection but I have a feeling thats what makes Rundgren shows unique and endearing to all who attend. He said, even the band doesn't know whats coming next. Throughout the gig, Todd held what looked like a hand written 50 page stapled together playlist...and during the show he chooses randomly from that.
Todd, is 74 years old and originates out of Philadelphia. He is a very talented multi instrumentalist and producer. His fans are super loyal and most of the ones I spoke to that night, had seen Rundgren many times during the past decades!
One of the most fascinating things I didn't know about him is he produced the first of the Sparks albums back in 1971. Ron and Russell Mael never worked with him after that first LP. Rundgren said of the Mael brothers, that he thought the band to be the weirdest bunch of people he'd never met. Aside from Utopia, and many other prog projects....He has also toured for three years, with the Ringo Starr Allstar Band.
After the show, I was invited backstage with the band, a few friends and family members. Rundgren is very much a family man. His son, Rex was backstage. He's the eldest of three, all named with "R"s...Rex, Randy and Rebop. Todds' wife since 1998, Michele Rundgren was one of The Tubes original dancers, and is a delightful charismatic and friendly addition to the mix. Michele and I immediately got on like we've known each other forever. Todd himself, is present, charming, warm and easy to talk to, as is his band and family members. Someone who you just want to sit in a pub with and have a chat. As far as his live performance...I suggest checking out his show if possible. I absolutely intend to see him again. And I'm fairly certain that next time I see him, the show will be entirely different. And for that element alone, I look forward to it! For the entire "unpredictable" setlist: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/todd-rundgren/2017/the-chapel-san-francisco-ca-1be2f994.html