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Continued: 'Wizard' of Todd

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 12, 2009 - 7:53 PM

Todd Rundgren is the kind of maverick music-maker who travels to the beats of his own drum machines. However, for his latest endeavor, he's actually taking cues from his fans.

He will present in concert his 1973 album "A Wizard, A True Star," not his bestselling disc but his most influential and one beloved by aficionados.

"The fans chose it," said Rundgren, who appears Tuesday at the State Theatre. "I was approached by my promoter in Great Britain about the possibility of doing the record [in concert] because there had been a new generation of electronica artists and turntablists who had discovered the record and were quoting it as influential and using samples from it on their records. When wind got back to the U.S. about doing this, a bunch of the fans crunched numbers and decided this show would be better premiered here in the U.S. and they presented me with a proposal. I said: 'Doable.'"

"A Wizard, A True Star" will be presented in full theatrical approach, complete with special effects and about a dozen costumes, some of which Rundgren used in the 1970s ("altered to accommodate my somewhat larger frame").

The cult hero, 61, is staging "AWATS" in only five U.S. cities, partly because of its size and cost and partly because longtime sideman Roger Powell has a day job at Electronic Arts, a video-game company.

"He's only just gone there from his job at Apple Computer," Rundgren said. "We were able to get the three or so weeks necessary for rehearsal and the tour, but then he has to go show up at his other job."

No silly love songs

After making three albums of silly love songs aimed at radio airplay (he did alright with "Hello, It's Me" and "I Saw the Light" from 1972's "Something/Anything?"), Rundgren wanted to do an album his way.

"It was the first time I had the opportunity to have complete freedom in terms of the creative process," said Rundgren, who built a studio before recording the "Wizard" album. "I completely divested myself of the pressures of being accessible or commercial. I was no longer imitating other people; I was imitating myself."

Rather than a conventional collection of three-minute songs, the album features song fragments, extended passages, found sounds and rudimentary sampling. It clocks in at 56 minutes, which challenged the limits of vinyl back then.

"A Wizard, A True Star" takes its title from a review of an earlier Rundgren LP.

"I thought it was a funny kind of hyperbolic reference," he said. "This is kind of a tongue-in-cheek way of referring to someone who, in actuality, is not a star because I'm just mucking around in the studio for my own satisfaction."

Hip producer

Despite his ambitious recordings and long-run solo career, Rundgren has always worked as a producer to pay the bills. His credits include Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad, the New York Dolls, Meat Loaf, Patti Smith, Minneapolis' 12 Rods and XTC, to name a few. This year, he teamed again with the Dolls -- whose debut he also produced in 1973 -- on "'Cause I Sez So," which sounds like the work of professional punks.

"At a certain point, it becomes fake to pretend that you haven't gained some experience," he said. "Doing a song like 'Temptation to Exist' [from the new Dolls album] is about as daring and punky as they get nowadays."

In 2006, Rundgren toured as the frontman of the New Cars, with former Cars members Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes. It was a bumpy ride, derailed when Easton broke his collarbone three weeks into a world tour.

"We weren't able to accomplish what we set out to do and, at this point in time, it's been an entertaining ride but a failed investment of time," Rundgren said. "You don't get a second chance at that."

After this fall's brief U.S. and U.K. run of "A Wizard, A True Star," Rundgren will consider a more extensive tour with the show. He will not undertake a concert presentation of "Something/Anything," which critics regard as his masterpiece.

"As favorite a record as it is, I don't see it having the same sort of possibilities," he said. "My fan base, while very intense, is significantly smaller. What they say goes. No one has mentioned a runner-up as another record they'd like to see performed live."

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719

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  • TODD RUNDGREN

    What: Playing 1973's "A Wizard, A True Star" (above) plus other songs.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.

    Where: State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $29.50-$39.50.

    Web: www.tr-i.com

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