Todd Rundgren opens for Yes at McGrath Amphitheatre on Sept. 12.
Todd Rundgren has successfully done just about everything one can do as a musician. The singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist has had hit records (“Hello It’s Me,” “Bang the Drum All Day,” “Can We Still Be Friends”), produced some of the best-known rock artists and albums (Stage Fright by the Band, Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf, Wave by Patti Smith), collaborated with the best in the business on his own records (Trent Reznor, Joe Walsh, Bettye LaVette) as well as on theirs (Ringo Starr, the Cars, Hall & Oates). Rundgren has scored TV shows and movies (Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Dumb & Dumber, Crime Story) and has performed all over the world at big arenas and small clubs. But not in Iowa.
“I’m not sure if I have ever been there,” the 69-year-old said over the phone. “Iowa’s not one of the states that contains a base of my fans. Maybe I’m not country enough?” Rundgren spoke in a sincere and somewhat puzzled voice. He’ll open for the progressive rock band Yes on September 12 at McGrath Amphitheatre in Cedar Rapids. Rundgren will be backed by a small band and two dancers (Grace Yoo and Ashle Worrick) known as the Global Girls.
“They’re free-range dancers with tightly choreographed moves,” Rundgren said. “It gives the audience something to look at rather than just stare at me.” Rundgren is known for his outrageous costumes, and he often changes outfits during his shows. During his Iowa show, however, he said he will only transform once.
Rundgren has recorded music in a variety of styles, including blues, garage rock, psychedelia, soul, electronica, and prog rock. He said he will perform some of his career highlights during the show, and audiences should expect to hear tunes from many different genres.
Rundgren recently told an interviewer from Variety, “If you’re a Trump supporter, don’t come to my show, because you won’t have a good time.” He told me that he simply wanted to warn audiences that he would be playing music from his more recent records, including a video of an anti-Trump song he recorded with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, called “Man in the Tin Foil Hat.” Rundgren clearly abhors Trump’s values, but he said the Cedar Rapids show will not be political.
“I can say what I want when it’s my show,” he said, “but this package was put together by Yes, who are the headliners. It’s not my place to stir up controversy for them.”
After the Yes tour is completed, Rundgren plans to perform as a member of Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band. “It’s the sixth year of this particular lineup—just about to surpass the life of the Beatles,” he noted. Rundgren credits the Fab Four with inspiring him to take up music as a career. He first met Starr in the 1970s, backing him during a gig at a Jerry Lewis telethon. “I was in awe of him,” Rundgren admitted.
“I have been a member of the All-Starr Band for several tours, beginning in 1993. Now I consider the drummer a friend,” Rundgren said. “Ringo becomes friends with everyone in the band. He works hard at being a regular person and not having an attitude, which is hard when so many people hold you in such esteem.”
But that’s not Rundgren’s only Beatles connection. John Lennon’s killer Mark David Chapman was also infatuated with Rundgren, and before murdering Lennon, Chapman stalked Rundgren at his New York home. Chapman was arrested for Lennon’s homicide while wearing a T-shirt promoting Rundgren’s Hermit of Mink Hollow album.
Rundgren has no particular plans to produce any other artist’s music, but admits to being open to the idea. “The record industry has changed radically,” he said. “The biggest-selling albums are mostly made to sell to young girls, by solo female performers such as Taylor Swift and Adele, or male bands like Imagine Dragons, who are marketed to the same audience. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not my forte,” he said.
Rundgren, who was once asked by the great singer-songwriter Laura Nyro to be her band leader, said he’s more interested in underground music than big acts. He recently performed with the alternative band the Lemon Twigs at Coachella in California.
“Music is the most plagiarized art form there is,” he said. “The Western 12-tone scale only has certain combinations. As a musician or a producer, there is only so much one can do. Who knows what the next big thing will be? Most of the time it seems to be a return back to basics, like the Grunge movement. But sometimes, like Yes, it can be the complete opposite.”
Whatever it turns out to be, Rundgren said he plans to keep on making music as long as he can.