Music » Critics' Picks

Todd Rundgren

Friday, July 18; Pageant


The rock-star-as-chameleon has been a recurring motif in popular culture at least since the Beatles started tripping, went to India and graduated from catchy singles to conceptual albums. David Bowie and Madonna may be the best-known participants in the multiple-identity makeover game, but few rockers have done so with better musical results than singer/songwriter/producer Todd Rundgren.

In the late '60s, the Philadelphia native first drew public attention as a member of the psychedelic pop band the Nazz. In the '70s, Rundgren gained recognition as a soulful singer/songwriter whose one-man-band efforts were rivaled in sophistication and execution only by acknowledged geniuses Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. By the end of the disco decade, Rundgren also had established himself as a producer for acts ranging from the protopunk New York Dolls to radio-friendly hitmakers (and fellow Philadelphians) Hall and Oates. Somewhere in there, Rundgren also found time to start Utopia, a band that combined keyboard-heavy, progressive-rock flourishes with Beatlesque songcraft.

As his career evolved, Rundgren also became heavily involved in evangelizing new technologies. He made one of the first music videos shown on MTV, took part in pioneering cable and satellite concert broadcasts, wrote home-brew software for his desktop computer and in the '90s released interactive CDs and created a members-only website. Rundgren's penchant for reinventing himself in the right way at the right time has fostered a coterie of longtime fans who've stayed with him well into middle age. His current tour is a solo effort, with Rundgren performing on piano and guitar with pre-recorded accompaniment (via an MP3 player!) on some songs. And in this context, it is indeed the songs that matter -- time may have cost his voice a few high notes, but the enduring appeal of his best work will keep fans coming back as long as Rundgren still cares to tour.

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