Celebrating David Bowie with Todd Rundgren and Friends: Todd Rundgren has seen and done it all. He’s produced some of the biggest and best artists in the world, and he’s released a string of great solo albums. He’s just one of those names that is synonymous with “quality,” and he’s somebody musicians call on when they want a sure thing.
He’s always wanted to keep moving forward, to evolve as an artist, but he’s also happy to take a look over his shoulder and celebrate the past. He toured a Beatles celebration with Wings man Denny Laine (as well as playing with Ringo’s All-Starr Band), he sang with the Cars a decade or so ago (well, the New Cars to be exact), and he’s back on the road celebrating the music of David Bowie with former Bowie guitarist Adrian Belew (among others).
“Pre-pandemic, I was asked to be involved in this ongoing thing,” Rundgren told us during a phone interview. “It was a project before I got involved in it, and they had done some touring and as a matter of fact had much touring to do, except I was only there for one gig. That was an appearance with the Icelandic National Orchestra over a weekend. We did two nights and I think the orchestra was one of the nights. That was it. I just did two gigs. We did a showcase after rehearsals in L.A., and that was the extent of it. So now, I’m sort of rejoining the ensemble, and doing an official tour. A real, multi-city, traveling extravaganza.”
It makes sense. The parallels between the careers of Bowie and Rundgren have been noted before; Bowie produced the Stooges and Rundgren the New York Dolls. Neither wanted to settle into a musical rut.
“I think in many ways, David Bowie is more extreme than that,” Rundgren says. “He would actually adopt a persona and he did not really break character much, even when he wasn’t on stage. In other words, if he decided that ‘now I’m an R&B singer,‘ he would fully embrace that and dress like one — do his hair like one, and essentially get into character. I’m not coming up with characters for myself, for the benefit of the public. I’m pretty much me all the time, it’s just that I dabble in a lot of different musical genres. Mostly, because I want to learn more about them and understand them better, and also because it’s a good way to express certain kinds of ideas. I’ve always dabbled in other musical forms, but it’s not necessarily me moving from one thing to another thing. It’s me adding stuff to the same thing. I’m just adding more aspects of where I can go to my overall musical approach.”
The singer and guitarist says that early Bowie, pre-Spiders, is his favorite period in the legend’s career.
“I kinda enjoyed the Spiders From Mars thing, and after that he started working with Eno and pulling lyrics out of a hat,” he says. “It started making a little less sense by then. Very early on, he was more of an eclectic artist. If you listen to the record, he wasn’t trying to be a particular kind of stylist. He would imitate Bob Dylan on one song, and then he’d imitate Anthony Newley on another song. Or he’d imitate the lead singer from Sweet [Brian Connolly] on a song. He’d try all kinds of different things within the context of one record like Hunky Dory. I was very much intrigued by that. That’s an approach that I’m very sympathetic to. Trying out different styles to see which one conveys the message of a song best.”
On this tour, Celebrating David Bowie, Rundgren will be performing many of Bowie’s biggest hits, including “Life On Mars,” “Space Oddity” and “Young Americans.” And, he’s working alongside a stellar cast of characters.
“I have known Adrian [Belew] for a while, but I had never worked with him, so that was a golden opportunity,” he says. “[I’ve worked with] almost everyone except for Adrian, Scrote and Angelo from Fishbone, who’s doing a substantial part of the tour but not all of it, and I just realized that Royston Langdon is well-known to me because he toured with me, and he was also for a time married to Liv [Tyler]. So there will be some familiar faces, and some people I will be working with for the first time, which is always fun and interesting.”
The dynamic of performing in a “band” is far from alien to Rundgren, who worked with the aforementioned Beatles and Cars outfits.
“I play in so many different things,” he says. “This year, I did a Daryl Hall tour, then a Beatles tour, then another Daryl tour, and then a tour of my own. There’s a couple more Daryl tours, then the David Bowie thing. I’m in all kinds of contexts all of the time. The biggest problem for me has been that I’ve spent the entire year making up for tours that were canceled, so I’ve been out already for probably five months out of the year, and then I’ve got another two and a half months to go. By the time I get to the end of the year, I’ll have probably been on the road for nine months. That’s excessive. I enjoy being home, so I don’t necessarily look forward to that grueling routine. That makes it a little less enjoyable.”
The pandemic at least offered Rundgren the opportunity to record a new album of his own, though circumstances mean that he won’t be touring it.
“When everyone started going into lockdown, nobody was going to the studio anymore, so completing the record — we were in the final phases of it — but actually getting it completed was something of a challenge,” he says. “When I delivered it, that’s when Adele decided she was going to release a record, and that’s when there was no vinyl anymore. So the record was ready to go, but there was not enough material to actually manufacture it. That record will be out in October and by then I’ll be playing David Bowie. After that, I’ll be doing Daryl Hall. So there obviously won’t be a tour behind this particular record. On this one, at least half of the record and maybe more is actually sung by other people. I can’t really go out and tour it because I’m not singing it.”
Fear not, chap. We’ll enjoy it anyway.
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