Thursday, January 21, 2010

Interview: TR a wizard reborn in london

Todd Rundgren will make a dozen costume changes when he showcases the celebrated album A Wizard, A True Star in London next month – and he’ll do them all on stage!

“When I decided to do the whole of this record live, I thought about the best way to make it really theatrical,” Rundgren told Classic Rock.

“At first I was gonna bring in acrobats, clowns and animals – to make it something of a circus. But that just wasn’t practical. But I knew that this couldn’t just be about the music. I needed a striking visual element. So what I’ve done is create a dressing room on stage.

“During the gig, I make about 12 changes, in a dressing room mocked up behind a curtain. This gives everything a certain magic feel, because I am effectively changing right in front of the fans! And there’s the tension of wondering whether I can get it done in time to make my musical cue.

“So, I’ll be relaxed and singing something like Never Never Land, then have to dash and change while the band carry on. I hope the audience find it interesting.”

Although Rundgren has so far performed the iconic 1973 album at four shows in America last December, the original idea was to do it solely in London.

“The suggestion was first made when I toured the UK in November 2008. The promoter told me that the record had become really popular with electronic artists and DJs. There was a real buzz about it. He felt that if I performed the whole album at a gig in London, and got some of these talents involved, then I could reach a younger audience.

“Then people in America got to hear about the idea and, not wanting to be left out, sorted out some dates at the end of last year. So the London one, instead of starting it all off, has come a lot later.”

Rundgren is remaining virtually faithful to the style and running order of the album, although there is one major shift.

“The song International Feel is now at the end of the set. Because it sits a lot better there. When the album came out, I had to split the music into two ‘acts’, really. Which were the two sides of the vinyl. So I had to make some arbitrary decisions. Now, I can visualise it as one continuous piece, which was the idea in the first place. So far, the reaction to this from fans has been fine – it hasn’t shocked them too much!”

Rundgren has admitted that he wanted to do the whole of this album when it first came out. What stopped him?

“Technology wasn’t up to it. I’d have had to get so many musicians involved to make it work, and that just wasn’t practical. Now, I can use samples if necessary. It all makes more economic sense.”

Right now, the plan is to do A Wizard, A True Star in London at the Hammersmith Apollo on February 6 (for tickets go here) and then in Amsterdam, at the Paradiso two nights later. But that’s not the end… only the end of the beginning.

“I will also take it out to other cities, where my popularity is still such that I know I can sell tickets. That’ll happen in the spring. So, this will carry on for a while.”

And there’s a DVD in the works, which Rundgren is currently putting together.

“We filmed all of the US dates, and right now I’m going through all of the footage on my laptop. The idea will be not only to put out a live DVD, but also a box set with all of those shows in their entirety. That’ll be one thing, I assume, only dedicated fans would want.

“What we did was video simulcast all of the gigs, and then specifically shoot one concert. So, we’ve multi-camera angles for it all. It means I’ve got so much to go through, but it’s worthwhile, and these days it’s so much easier to edit.”

Rundgren doubts that he will ever take a similar approach with any of his other albums, believing that none really lend themselves to such exposure.

“One thing with A Wizard, A True Star is that it’s nearly an hour long. It represents that period when I looked beyond the pop song, and started to invest in sounds and experimenting with what you could do with music. I’d had enough of writing songs about the same subject over and over again – the girl with whom I’d split up eight years earlier. So, it was time to move on.

“Why was it such a long record in an era when most were about 40 minutes in length? Because I lost track of how it was turning out, to be honest – which I regularly did! Fortunately, we managed to get away with it, even though there was some loss of frequencies at the bottom end on the vinyl format back then.

“The problem is that none of my other records are long enough to turn into self-contained shows. Hermit Of Mink Hollow (1978) has been mentioned. But how would that work? Just me on stage… as it was on the record.”

One final thing: Rundgren doesn’t want this to be viewed as a nostalgia trip and nothing more…

“No artist likes to be seen that way. I believe that I’m bringing something new and fresh to what I did in 1973. Come along and see for yourself.”

Todd Rundgren performs the British premiere of A Wizard, A True Star at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo in London on Saturday, February 6. Box office: 08700 603 777. Book online:

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