Todd Rundgren has always been perverse about commercial success, a trait that has been simultaneously frustrating and endearing throughout his remarkable career. From the beginning, the dude knew how to write catchy songs: The first song on the first The Nazz album in 1968 was a swooshing gem entitled “Open My Eyes.” Later, with Runt, he wrote, “We Gotta Get You a Woman.” And while Rundgren also composed “Hello, It’s Me” while in The Nazz, it was four years later before he perfected it on his masterwork, “Something/Anything?”
Despite all of its self-indulgences (including an audio tour of the recording studio and unedited mistakes), that 1972 opus was a high-water mark commercially as well as creatively for Rundgren. Emboldened or unnerved by its reception, he pushed the song fragmentation and the studio gimmickry even further less than a year later on “A Wizard, a True Star,” a record that scrambles and abridges (56 minutes) the eclectic daredevilry of “Something/Anything?” (87 minutes). More than 35 years down the road, “Wizard” still polarizes even Rundgren fans, with many celebrating it as audacious, uncompromising artistry and others deriding it as a sonic wankfest with an attention deficit disorder.
Naturally, “Wizard” is the record Rundgren has chosen to perform in its entirety. Minneapolis— specifically the State Theatre, tonight — is one of less than a dozen U.S. cities included on the tour before Rundgren heads to England, where enthusiasm for “Wizard” is especially fevered among the prog-rock and electronic-tech cognoscenti.
Reports from the first few stops on the tour indicate that the prog-rockers will be in high heaven. Along with “Wizard,” Rundgren will be a second set of other songs with a band that includes members of his prog-rock outfit, Utopia, including that group’s other soloist, keyboardist Roger Powell, and bassist Kasim Sultan, with ex-Tubes drummer Prairie Prince replacing John Wilcox. Some will also play on “Wizard,” abetted by ex-Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes and a few others. Rundgren, still robust at 61, works overtime to put on a visual spectacle — up to a dozen costume changes! — that matches the aural pyrotechnics and dizzying pace of the songs.
As its highly ironic title indicates, “A Wizard, a True Star” is not an easy album to love. But those who do are die-hards — mostly elderly die-hards by now, certainly, but for this night, young at heart and totally infatuated.
Here is Rundgren performing “Open My Eyes” earlier this year. Here are three rapid-fire excerpts from the “Wizard” tour. And here is a radio interview with Rundgren in which he explains how and why he decided to do this particular tour.
Todd Rundgren at the Historic State Theatre, tonight at 7:30; tickets are $32-$42.