Todd Rundgren will perform fan favorites at the Sherman Theater with a more conventional band
Early in Todd Rundgren’s career, he decided that being unique musically was more important and satisfying than being popular.
“I came to a point where I realized it was fruitless for me to make music that other people could make just as well,” Rundgren said. “I had to make music that other people weren’t making in order to justify my musical existence. It’s kind of been that way ever since.”
Rundgren has followed that philosophy since the early 1970s, when his third solo effort, the landmark 1972 double album, “Something/Anything,?” put him on the cusp of major stardom. Songs like the hit singles “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw The Light,” as well as “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” and “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” reaffirmed Rundgren’s gift for writing concise and indelible pop gems. And at 8 p.m. on Feb. 4, Rundgren will take stage at the Sherman Theater in downtown Stroudsburg.
At the time, he was frequently compared to Carole King, the master pop songwriter who had soared to the top of the charts with her blockbuster album “Tapestry.”
The fact that all of the instruments on the first three sides of “Something/Anything” were recorded entirely by Rundgren had the press labeling him as a musical genius and a bit of a maverick.
Rundgren, who released his 25th solo album, “Global,” in April, realized in the wake of that initial success that he could continue in the vein of “Something/Anything?” and very possibly become one of the biggest stars of that era. But he had a different kind of career in mind, which dovetailed with his natural tendency to explore and reinvent himself musically.
Sticking to a successful musical blueprint “will build you an audience of a certain kind, but I don’t know if it builds the loyalty that being a little bit more bold does,” Rundgren said. “What happened was it looked like I was building up a giant, but wide, but shallow fan base through ‘Something/Anything?’ and the hit singles on the radio. And then when I pull a stunt like ‘A Wizard, A True Star’ after that, it essentially culls out all of the shallowest part of the audience and leaves you with the really committed listener. And so all of my fans, a lot of them, have been following what I’ve done for decades. It’s the reason why I still have a career.”
“A Wizard, A True Star” indeed was a radical departure from “Something/Anything?” Rundgren turned away from the three-minute pop song format and created an album that stylistically was all over the pop/psychedelic map, and at times eccentric and sonically dense enough that it took multiple listens to absorb.
Rundgren has made more accessible albums since, but he has remained a relentlessly adventurous and frequently innovative artist.
“Global” finds Rundgren continuing to explore an electronic music vein that he first tapped with the 1993 interactive release, “New World Order” and has featured on several subsequent albums, including “Liars” (2004) and “State” (2013). Guitars are almost entirely absent on “Global,” as Rundgren uses synthesizers, sequencers, computers and programmed rhythms to create the musical backdrop for what, ironically enough, might feel like a collection of fairly conventional and equally appealing pop songs in a guitar/bass/drums setting.
As on many recent albums, Rundgren plays all the instruments on “Global,” and he’s found that the tools of electronic dance music suit his methods as well as his music.
“It’s partly because you have broader control over sonic palate,” Rundgren said, explaining his attraction to a synthesized sound. “It’s kind of satisfying. In the old days, we used to kind of struggle to achieve some of the sounds that you kind of imagined hearing. Now it’s kind of a riot of possibilities out there.”
But if Rundgren uses a modern EDM musical palate on “Global,” he actually thinks the album has more in common with ‘80s synth-pop acts like Depeche Mode.
“If I had to characterize this record, I’d say it’s almost like an ‘80s record,” he said. “It does depend on somewhat large textures and sequencers playing things that aren’t really humanly possible to play. But that’s all part of what makes it interesting is that you’re challenging the equipment to do something that instinct tells you that human beings can’t actually play, but at the same time, get the degree of control over it (that’s) necessary to have it convey the underlying message that’s in the music in a way that isn’t off-putting to people.”
The messages in “Global” are built around a central theme — the need to respond to the environmental threats of global warming.
“That’s pretty much the core of the record,” Rundgren said. “It’s that, but it’s also trying to be, in a lot of ways throughout the record, I’m trying to be a cheerleader rather than a scolder. It will
lapse into scolding every once in a while, but for the most part I think healing the planet should be a joyful kind of work that we all do together and that we all gain satisfaction from. So in that sense, it’s trying to straddle the divide between get off your duff and get to work, but at the same time make it something that can be a bit joyous.”
Rundgren used much of his 2015 tour to present songs from “Global” (and his back catalog) in an unusual way, using a DJ to run tracks and a pair of background singers as his backing band. For this winter, though, Rundgren is taking a more conventional approach.
He’ll play a selection of fan favorites with a more conventional band that features long-time musical cohorts bassist Kasim Sultan, drummer Prairie Prince (of the Tubes), guitarist Jesse Gress and keyboardist Michael Ferenzik. If the live show allows him to bounce from electronic to rock band formats, Rundgren said he expects his albums to remain essentially a solo venture where he creates nearly all of the sounds himself. That’s how he made early albums like “Something/Anything?” and “A Wizard, A True Star,” and as a long-time resident of Hawaii, working alone in the studio is the only practical way to go.
“There was a phase in the middle (of the career) when I had the Utopia band and there were phases in which I insisted on doing everything live with a whole bunch of musicians in the studio,” Rundgren said. “But when I moved to Hawaii, it became more difficult to just call a session. All of the musicians I knew were on the mainland.
“It (writing and recording alone) has become natural to me,” he said. “But still it ironically seems unusual to other people to make all of the sounds yourself.”
IF YOU GO
WHO: Todd Rundgren
WHERE: Sherman Theater, 524 Main St. Stroudsburg
WHEN: 8 p.m. Feb. 4
COST: $38 - $52
For more information call the Sherman Theater at