Todd Rundgren has been a road dog for decades. Before the pandemic, he was sometimes touring as much as 10 months out of the year. But as he gets older, he’s started to refine how his concerts are routed and will no longer perform in certain markets as a result.
Climate change also plays a part in how the veteran singer-songwriter and producer approaches the scheduling of his concerts now. He tells UCR how difficult it has become “to schedule something and then show up to it because of things like weather events that are becoming more and more impactful.”
“[Touring] involves more flying, [and] I found myself evermore often sitting in the airport waiting for a delayed flight, on panicked calls with my travel agent, wondering if I’m going to be able to get to the next city in time to do the gig,” he explains. “All of this was often because there was a hurricane in Florida, so they shut down all of the Florida airports.”
Using forest fires and flooding as examples, Rundgren sees a developing situation that’s only going to get worse. The pandemic gave him a chance to test a solution he came up with: Clearly Human, a virtual tour that took place earlier this year.
“I wasn’t even thinking about delivering directly to the home, which we did with the virtual tour, because people couldn’t leave home,” he explains. “But I was thinking most venues now have video screens and decent sound systems. What if you set up and did a kind of show that would be impractical to travel with and then narrowcast it to the venues you would have played at if you had physically traveled?”
Rundgren uncovered a side benefit of the virtual gigs: Fans were given a better experience. “You start to realize that maybe there are manifest advantages for them as well,” he explains. “Besides the fact that the liquor is way cheaper when you’re watching at home.”
Watch Todd Rundgren Perform ‘Real Man’ During the 2021 ‘Clearly Human’ Tour
Rundgren laughs at the memory of looking at video monitors during the first night of the virtual tour. “Down in the front row in the right-hand corner, there was someone who chain-smoked through the entire show,” he recalls. “I suddenly realized that person enjoyed the show way more than they would have if they had to go to the venue and not smoke for two hours!”
He says he likes the “hybridized” approach that developed with the Clearly Human gigs, which were based in Chicago. As people started to get vaccinated, Rundgren started to add a small live audience to the performances. “You still have real people dancing around to the music live, right there in front of you,” he explains. “And yet, you still have that virtual audience so far away but yet tele-present, and living their lives with you at the same time. I’m 73, and I’m going to be a lot more particular about how and when I tour. So I’m always looking for different ways to deliver it.”
Part of that revised approach involves no longer traveling to certain cities. “I don’t go to a lot of the secondary tertiary markets anymore,” he notes. “I don’t do those bus tours where you just go city to city to city to city. I only go to pretty much major markets and play multiple nights in [those] markets.”
The multi-night strategy for the in-person shows that start in October has two days built in after gigs to allow some time to get to the next city. “That helps me health-wise,” he says. “Because there’s a lot less stress in being able to settle into a hotel room for three days as opposed to one night.”
The Individualist, a True Star tour features Rundgren performing his 1973 album, A Wizard, a True Star, in its entirety but with a catch: Each night includes only one side of the classic record. A second set will include favorites from throughout his career.
The second set will be different each night, too, so Rundgren won’t “bore the hell out of” hardcore fans who are planning to attend more than one show. “If you’re playing more than one show in a city, you want your fans to buy as many tickets as possible,” he laughs. “Buy five, please!”
Listen to UCR’s Interview With Todd Rundgren
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