Whether he likes it or not, Todd Rundgren is going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
And make no mistake, he doesn’t like it. The Upper Darby native, who brought his The Individualist: A True Star Tour to the Fillmore on Monday has called the RRHOF selection process “a scam.”
Rather than attend his own induction in Cleveland on Oct. 30, Rundgren is playing another Ohio gig that same night, 250 miles away in Cincinnati. “True halls of fame, to me, are for retirees and dead people, because your legacy has been established,” he has said. “I’m too busy working to worry about my legacy.”
But a funny thing happened in Fishtown during the first of two back-to-back shows before a seated audience made up mostly of his generational peers. (Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test was required for entry; masks were encouraged but not mandatory.)
In a terrific 2 1/2 hour two-part extravaganza, the 73-year-old rocker, who has been consistent throughout a remarkably restless and varied career in his commitment to creative experimentation, chose instead to take a long look back, laying out a musical resume that made an implicit, incontrovertible argument. You’re wondering why I belong in the RRHOF: Well, take a listen (and a look) at this.
The case was made in two parts. The tour’s lure was that Rundgren would play Side One of the 1973 album that perhaps best embodies his iconoclastic spirit his first night in town, and then flip it over and play Side Two the next.
That album in question is A Wizard, a True Star, the manic, acid-inspired adventure of which, Patti Smith, reviewing it in Creem magazine at the time, wrote “Todd Rundgren is preparing us for a generation of frenzied children who will dream in animation.”
In 2017, Rundgren pinpointed the album as a turning point in his career: “I threw out all the rules of record-making trying to imprint the chaos in my own head ... without trying to clean it up for anyone else’s benefit.”
The A Wizard, a True Star portion was the second part of the evening. Coming out after a 20-minute intermission and a video screen slideshow of photos of the performer throughout the years labeled “Todd Rundgren: Fashionista,” the songwriter emerged dressed in a white space suit, singing the hallucinogenic power pop song “International Feel” into a headset microphone inside his helmet as he drifted across the stage as if on the surface of the moon.
He went on to change costumes a half-dozen times during buzzy interstitial instrumental interludes, emerging as a masked wood sprite for “Zen Archer” and wearing a laughable oversized clown suit for the surrealistic silliness of “Just Another Onion Head / Dada Dali.”
Nearly five decades after its release, A True Star stills dazzles as an explosion of creative energy and ingenuity that had a profound impact on studio wizards to come from Prince to Kevin Parker of Australian psych-rock band Tame Impala.
But what was most surprising about Monday’s show wasn’t that the endearing strange and funny A True Star still sounds mind-blowing fresh. It was that Rundgren chose to precede with a straightforward 90-minute set of familiar songs that presented his body of work in a linear fashion, giving his people the familiar songs they wanted to hear and displaying the many musical moves that demonstrate why he belongs in the classic rock pantheon.
That meant reaching all the way back to his early Philly band The Nazz and their 1968 single “Open My Eyes,” as well as “Hello It’s Me,” its flip side that was the first song he ever wrote and later a hit for him as a solo artist. He remembered writing it when he was living in a house on South Street while sitting in a wheelchair, “not because there was anything wrong with me but because that was the only furniture we had.”
Looking fit, dressed in black and occasionally showing off some high-stepping dance moves, Rundgren was in strong, fine voice throughout. He surveyed his career in chronological order, backed by a band that included longtime collaborators Prairie Prince on drums, Kasim Sulton on bass, and Gil Assayas on keyboards.
There were odd moments, with Rundgren talking to and for his lime green guitar Foamy as if he were a ventriloquist. But the music was unfussy and impactful. He showed off blues-guitar heroics on “Black Maria” and “The Death of Rock and Roll,” goofed around like Gilbert & Sullivan-meets-The Who on “An Elpees Worth of Tunes,” and delivered a steady stream of classic Todd Rundgren tunes.
Early on, those included the power-pop masterpiece “I Saw The Light,” and he settled into a Philly soul-influenced groove as he moved forward throughout his commercial heyday with “Fair Warning” and the hit “Real Man” from 1975′s Initiation and “Compassion” from 1981′s Healing.
Rundgren’s creative restlessness is still in full effect. He’s got a new album coming in 2022 called Space Force that will include collaborations with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, subversive pop duo Sparks, and Iraqi-Canadian rapper Narcy.
But coupled with the antic wizardry to come when he returned to the stage to deliver the glam rock head trip of A True Star, Rundgren’s hit-filled first night at the Fillmore amounted to a career summation, packed with highlights that couldn’t be denied.
His encore of the delightful garage-rock stomp “Evrybody” from 2015′s Global was the only song he performed dated to this century. For this tour anyway, Rundgren is putting the forward-thinking aside, and proudly giving that Hall of Fame-worthy legacy he purports to not care about the attention it deserves.