Over the past half-decade or so, Todd Rundgren’s concert tours (discounting his occasional symphonic and “unpredictable” shows) have ping-ponged between full-bore EDM house parties emceed by DJs and full-band, rock ‘n’ roll extravaganzas.
His current trek, White Knight: The Chivalrock Tour, brings together elements of both to cast the veteran musician as an entertainer with both feet in the present as he occasionally looks over his shoulder to his past.
On May 6, in a one-third sold Express Live! pavilion, Rundgren and his six backing musicians and singers put on a two-hour, 25-song set that featured just six songs from the far-away 20th century and was full of modern production elements and plenty of noise.
Rundgren and the Global Girls, who accompanied him on his last EDM tour, were stationed in front of a gigantic, partially see-through screen that gave the show a movie-like feel with colorful graphics adding to the vibe and occasionally blinding attentive concertgoers.
Videos for two tracks from the forthcoming, collaborative White Knight LP – the environmental plea “Deaf Ears” with Nine Inch Nails and the hilarious anti-Trump screed “Tin Foil Hat” with Donald Fagen – were shown as interludes to facilitate costume changes.
Fisticuffs nearly broke out in the pit as a bunch of Trump supporters reacted poorly to “Tin Foil Hat,” causing security to spring to action as the band obliviously played on among cries of “you suck, Todd Rundgren!”
Behind the screen, working like a quartet of wizards (and true stars, natch) from Oz, were longtime members of Rundgren’s band – drummer Prairie Prince (the Tubes), bassist Kasim Sulton (Utopia), guitarist Jesse Gress, and keyboardist/saxophonist Greg Hawkes (the Cars) – who, although nearly impossible to see, were easily heard.
Starting the show in a suit and tie and ending it in an unzipped white leather jacket, Rundgren commanded the stage while the Global Girls cavorted around, singing beautifully and recalling the World’s Most Dangerous Background Singers of the late-1980s. Serving as enthusiastic ring-leader, Rundgren led his crew through much of the yet-to-be-released White Knight and key tracks from such recent releases as State (2013) and Global (2015).
At 68, Rundgren’s voice remains a wonder of the rock world, powerful and full of vibrato. When he wasn’t peeling off searing solos on his sea-foam-green guitar – dubbed “Foamy” – Rundgren prowled the stage with microphone in hand, looking like anything but an aging rock star simply going through the motions.
And careful listeners would be pleased to know modern songs such as “Sir Reality” and “God Said” find Rundgren still capable of writing biting social commentary that emboldens those who agree with his politics and flusters those who do not.
While a couple of the newer numbers like “Party Liquor” and “Rise” sounded like so many other electronica tracks from any other artist, others – such as “Buy My T” found Rundgren successfully melding his past with his present to make a new genre of music that still sounds like Rundgren, who sounds like no one else.
“Buy my T, buy my hoodie/you need a souvenir, we got you covered buddy/I know my limits, I give until I hurt/you can bootleg the music, but you gotta buy the shirt,” he sang with typical self-deprecation and humor.
To keep some continuity to the performance, Rundgren chose wisely in determining which older tracks to toss in. Utopia’s funky “Secret Society” and his danceable 1989 solo track “Love Science” proved Rundgren’s latest moves aren’t all that removed from his earlier work, while “Sweet” and “Past” from 2004’s Liars were electronica-tinged, blue-eyed soul at its best.
And the three-song encore of “One World,” “Hello It’s Me” and “Just One Victory” could have ended a show 40 years ago as easily as it ended one in 2017, with Rundgren ripping off guitar solos at the front of the stage while audience members joyfully sang along to the Utopian national anthem.
Better than the State and Global tours and not as fine as last’s year’s An Evening With performances, this tour is a stellar example of Todd Rundgren in the second decade of the 21st century – still quirky, still unconcerned with what his fans think. And still an electrifying on-stage presence.