Friday, July 25, 2008

Todd Rundgren prepares to blast Bearsville Theater with 'Arena' rock

By Steve Israel
Times Herald-Record
July 25, 2008
Todd Rundgren has one fear when he returns to the Town of Woodstock to play the Bearsville Theater:
"I just hope we don't get sued for deafening someone," he says with a laugh about his Monday show.
Rundgren, who lived near Bearsville from the '70s to the '90s, knows that the combination of his new music — high-octane, guitar-fueled rock from his new album "Arena" — and the tiny (250-seat) Bearsville Theater could be intense.
"This is hard rock," he says, "not some little piano minuet."
Which is why Rundgren called his new album, due in September, "Arena," as in arena rock.
Rundgren knows "Arena" is a departure from the music his devoted fans (Toddheads) might expect. For more than 30 years he's recorded tuneful, synthesized, electronic pop music, including hits like "Hello It's Me," "I Saw the Light" and "We Gotta Get You a Woman."
"This is the other end of the spectrum," he says. "This is in-your-face guitar rock of the old school."
Then, as if to soothe his shocked fans, he adds, "There are plenty of hooks, too, that will have you singing along by the end of the song."
Not only is Rundgren's new music a first, but also so is the gig in Woodstock.
He may have produced albums by acts as diverse as Meat Loaf, Patti Smith and Jesse Winchester in his home studio in Lake Hill and at Bearsville Studio (the studio was started by his old manager, the late Albert Grossman, who brought stars like Dylan and the Band to Woodstock). Rundgren may have engineered the Band's album, "Stage Fright," at the old Woodstock Playhouse. He even played UPAC in Kingston and the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie.
But he never played the wood-paneled Bearsville Theater — even though Grossman built it, even though Rundgren made music videos in the studio next door, Utopia Video.
"It's been a really long time coming," says Rundgren, 60, who now lives in Hawaii.
Still, Rundgren has kept his Woodstock connections. His personal assistant/tour director, Mary Lou Arnold, lives in Woodstock. Her husband, Jesse Gress, is his guitarist. So when Rundgren had an open date on his way to a private show in Boston with the New Cars, and Arnold suggested Bearsville, Rundgren thought, "Why not?"
"And besides," he adds, "Woodstock is so pleasant this time of the year."
Still, Rundgren says he wasn't always that "crazy" about the Ulster County town surrounded by mountains. Back in the early '70s, he was a New York City guy.
And why not?
He hung out at Steve Paul's Scene, where he jammed with young guitarists including Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. After that, his favorite spot was Max's Kansas City, where he saw Bob Marley and the Wailers' first American gig.
"There was nothing comparable," he says.
But as his production gigs increased and Grossman vowed to make him the highest-paid producer — getting him a $50,000 advance to do Grand Funk Railroad's "We're an American Band" — Woodstock became more attractive.
"It took too much energy to do anything in the city," he says. "Just to get across town was a hassle."
So with that production money "piling up," Rundgren bought a house (actually two) in the wilds of Lake Hill, a few miles north of Bearsville. That's where, in that second home on the property, he recorded acts such as Meat Loaf, XTC and the Tubes.
As he devoted more time to his music, he spent less time there. Finally, in the '90s, he sold his homes and moved to Hawaii. Even though he's visited Woodstock several times since, don't expect him to repeat the Bearsville gig any time soon, especially while he's playing this loud music.
"Hopefully, this will create a self-fulfilling prophecy," he says. "If we play arena rock, we'll soon be playing arenas."
Todd talks about ...
Rockin' forever: Oddly enough, this interview took place via phone, Austin on one end, Bethel Woods at the other, just before legendary Tony Bennett was set to take Bethel's stage. Upon learning this, Rundgren remarked, "Sweet. I admire guys who perform right up until they die. I'm just hoping I'm not one of them."
Woodstock '94: Rundgren performed in his Todd Pod at the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair. "I loved playing there for a few days until the rains came. Then everyone wanted to use our tent for shelter."
"Stage Fright": Though he was the engineer on the Band's landmark album, "Stage Fright," which was recorded in Woodstock, Rundgren gives credit where it's due. "I was essentially the recordist. It was five guys showing up every day and playing."
Technology: Rundgren, who has repeatedly proven his high-tech prowess both behind the knobs as an engineer and with computer-laden multimedia performance environments, was interactive before anyone really knew what interactive meant. On "No World Order" (1993), which was easily the world's first interactive album, listeners had access to reshape Rundgren's songs. He will be releasing "Arena" on the label Hi-Fi Records, because "there are things I need on a record, like promotion, plus publishing is part of the deal." So in today's digital download age, Rundgren still plans to put out a tangible CD. "Many of my fans like to hold the product in their hands." But that's not to say the old creativity won't be present. "When it does come out, it will likely have some bonus ways that people can participate in it."
Nostalgia: Some people miss the vibe. Others miss their friends. On what he misses most in Woodstock, Rundgren is specific: "The Just Alan shop. I loved the chocolate truffles."

No comments: