In 1993, Todd Rundgren released
No World Order
, an interactive CD that allowed listeners to alter the mix and sequence of the music.
That forward-thinking endeavor now seems quaint compared to Rundgren's wholly electronic new album, State, and the laptop-driven live show that the Upper Darby native brought Saturday to the Trocadero.
Rundgren, 64, has chased various muses since founding psychedelic rock band the Nazz in the late '60s. There has been soft rock, progressive rock, classic pop, hard rock, soul, and now this electronic sound that finds Rundgren seemingly under the influence of Skrillex and Frank Ocean. It's more than an old head hitching his wagon to what's trendy. It's one of pop's great enigmas exercising the freedom he has earned to follow wherever these muses lead.
Advance word on the State tour stressed that Rundgren would focus heavily on the new album, while offering "reinterpretations" of some classics. If that disclaimer didn't sufficiently alert patrons that they were in for something different, the sight of Rundgren strolling onstage clutching a tablet while wearing skinny jeans, mirrored ski goggles, and a leopard-print hoodie sure did.
Flanked by longtime drummer Prairie Prince on an electronic kit and by a guitarist, Rundgren stood on a riser surrounded by computers and samplers from which a good portion of the music appeared to emanate.
The mix of live playing and programmed sounds meant that State tracks like "Angry Bird" and "Serious" packed the dancey slickness and steely edges of the album versions. Sweeter State selections like "Ping Me" and "Collide-A-Scope" featured multitracked falsetto and harmony embellishments. The songs seemed like millennial takes on the soul music Rundgren has made on his own and as producer of Hall and Oates.
The man-and-machine setup found Rundgren teetering dangerously close to karaoke territory during a solo encore that saw "Can We Still Be Friends," "I Saw the Light," and "Hello It's Me" threaded into a thumping dance remix medley.
It also made for technical glitches. Prince struggled to keep up with a click track early in the show. And "Serious" suffered through several false starts, thanks to computer issues, before they finally got it right. This seems like a tour that needs an IT person more than a guitar roadie.