Todd Rundgren brings humor, rarities, and romance

Todd Rundgren brought humor, rarities, and romance to Sellersville Wednesday.
Todd Rundgren brought humor, rarities, and romance to Sellersville Wednesday. (Getty Images)
Posted: March 29, 2014

Upper Darby's Todd Rundgren has forever been, as the title of his 1973 masterpiece says, A Wizard, a True Star. As one of few artists you could comfortably call a genius, the genre-jumbling multi-instrumentalist/producer/multimedia jockey has been an innovator of warm psychedelia, contagious cosmopolitan pop, blue-eyed soul, and existentialist prog-rock - sometimes all on one album. His career, while not always platinum-plated, has won a devoted following, judging from the sold-out Sellersville Theater Wednesday.

It's never certain which Todd you'll get: silly Todd, grumpy Todd, noisy Todd, soulful Todd, preachy Todd. That's half the fun - that and waiting for the rarities.

Sellersville was graced with a no-frills Rundgren (no robes, no pomp); a taut ensemble (stand-up drummer Prairie Prince, guitarist Jesse Gress, bassist Kasim Sulton) whose vocal backgrounds were intricate and essential and a rare selection of gems and oddball covers.

Plus, Rundgren was humorously in tune with this intimate crowd, making fun of his age (65) and the show's loose vibe. When the falsetto-rich "Cliché" started creakily, he joked: "Next sound-check, we'll have to rehearse that one all the way through."

A fleet, funky take on Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," an ominous, sung-spoken "I'm a Gun" (from a 1966 album by Lorne Greene), and a frenzied version of Arthur Brown's 1968 hit "Fire" may have seemed dashed-off, but Rundgren's throwaways are another artist's glittering prizes. That was particularly true of Clarence Carter's 1970 country-soul classic "Patches (I'm Depending on You)," a song Rundgren poured himself into with loopy, growly emotionalism. (Much as in his own compositions, such as the antimilitaristic anthem "Lysistrata," about a boy asking for his woman's blessing before going to war.)

Blistering guitar work attended the heavy "Black and White." But this Todd also had the taste to let romance be romance. Through softly flanged guitars and subtle rhythms, "I Saw the Light" and the superb "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" were delicious and the Laura Nyroesque. "Too Far Gone" became a scintillating samba with a nagging message ("Why don't you write your mother? / Why don't you call your family?").

But Rundgren played the pleading "I Don't Want to Tie You Down" straight - one more moment of openness during a truly revelatory show.

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