With concerts as we once knew them on hold until who knows when, Todd Rundgren is giving fans something to fall back on with his first-of-its-kind Clearly Human virtual tour.
Headquartered at an undisclosed Chicago venue with full production – massive lights, a big screen for more impact, a 10-piece band (three female singers, two horns, two keyboard players, guitar, bass and drums), choreography and a 23-song set list – Rundgren is beaming shows to 25 U.S. markets at 8 p.m. local time over the next several weeks.
On Feb. 19, it was “Virginia Beach.” And for two hours, 10 minutes, it seemed like a real concert, save for an audience of computer heads – and 19 lucky souls – and fake crowd noise. Oh, and cheap beer – no lines! – clean bathrooms – no lines! – amazing seats and adjustable volume.
“We’re going to bring you a joyful noise,” Rundgren said early on. “Forget about your cares; come along with us.”
And we did. While Rundgren and band – with familiar faces like Kasim Sulton (bass), Gil Assayas (keys), Bobby Strickland (horns), Prairie Prince (drums) and Michelle Rundgren and Grace Yoo (vocals) – performed, there was no pandemic, no cabin fever, no vaccine anxiety. Just sweet live music in a comfortable setting.
Billed as a full performance of Nearly Human – it wasn’t – the show featured eight of that LP’s 10 songs not in order and an almost career-spanning setlist from songs everyone knows (“Can We Still Be Friends,” “Hello it’s Me”) to off-off Broadway oddities (“The Smell of Money”) to 21st-century masterpieces like “God Said.”
“Love Science” brought the funk. “Compassion” was balladic. Utopia’s “Secret Society” was a disco nod to the fans. And “Feel It” and “Sweet” were pure soul.
When he wasn’t playing “Foamy,” his trusty axe, Rundgren prowled the stage all in black, singing to the avatars and doing the vaunted Todd Rundgren shuffle. At 72, his voice is still in good shape even as he struggled to hit the high notes on the opening “Real Man” and the during their complex vocal arrangements of “The Waiting Game.”
Anyone who witnessed Rundgren’s late-1980s tours behind Nearly Human and 2nd Wind would have experienced a serious bout of dèjá vu as the big-band setup – sequined jackets for the men; skimpy getups for the women – the setlist and enthusiasm recalled those monumental treks. Of course everything – not just the passing of three decades – is different now, a point reinforced by occasional buffering issues and the cat on my lap.
And even Rundgren cracked up when – standing on stage in cold Chicago – he thanked the fans in balmy Virginia for coming out.
But when he belted out the gospel-tinged “Hawking” on a smoke-enshrouded stage and donned a preachers’ robe for the joyful, celebratory “Love My Life” closer, everything was normal – if only for a little while.