Prior to the pandemic, Todd Rundgren had always wanted to embark on a virtual tour.
“It’s an idea that I’ve been cultivating for a long time,” he tells Rolling Stone from his home in Hawaii. “The inspiration for it was the degradation of the travel network, and a lot of that was a result of climate change. As a touring musician, I realized that it’s going to become more and more common that I can’t get to the gig, that my flights have all been canceled, or there’s a flood or a fire and you can’t even drive there. So I started toying with the idea of different ways to deliver my service.”
On February 14th, the singer will make that dream a reality, virtually performing 25 sets geofenced in different cities that he would have hit on a physical trek, from Manhattan, New York, to Phoenix, Arizona. Dubbed the Clearly Human Tour — a play on his 1989 album Nearly Human — each show will emanate from a Chicago venue through March 22nd, where the Central Time zone allows for a convenient start time for each coast.
The virtual tour makes sense for a musician like Rundgren, who’s always looked toward the future. After studying computer programming, he designed the first graphics tablet for Apple in 1979, released the first national cablecast of a rock concert in 1982, created the first interactive album ever (1993’s No World Order), and more.
“It was always about me not making it to the gig,” Rundgren says with a laugh. “Now we have a whole other situation where the audience can’t make it to the gig. It became imperative to try to figure out a way to give people some way of staying connected and minimize the amount of loss or the compromises that you would have to go through in order to do that.”
Rundgren will perform songs from his catalog, as well as Nearly Human in full. Tickets start at $35, with single ticket shows only available to fans within the city’s zip code. Fans outside of the metropolitan area (including internationally) can attend the show through bundles and add-ons available on the site. Rundgren will do remote meet-and-greets, while attendees can also select multiple camera angles. There is a possibility that in 2021 audience members may be permitted to attend the physical shows in Chicago — but it’s too soon to tell.
While Rundgren is excited about the upcoming trek, one thing he truly misses about physical touring is the food. “What used to be the worst thing about touring was the food, back in the late Sixties and Seventies,” he says. “Especially when I was a vegetarian. It was a nightmare, one cheese sandwich after another. But there’s been a whole kind of culinary revival all across the country. Almost any city you go to of any size has got some serious gourmet cuisine going on.”
With this in mind, Rundgren will tailor the shows to fit each city, localizing it with landmarks on the video wall and catering the food in each town. For the first night in Buffalo, New York, they’ll have wings shipped to Chicago from the city’s Anchor Bar, while local Buffalo attendees will get a deal with Door Dash to have wings delivered to them.
“People are trying to compensate often by doing one big show and trying to get as much audience as possible,” Rundgren says of pandemic livestreams. “While that does unify the audience, it doesn’t give the audience that sense of special attention when you come to their town. At the same time, we have to try to figure out ways that as performers, we don’t wind up feeling like we’re doing a residence at a hotel.”
In addition, Rundgren dropped the wacky Christmas song “Flappie,” originally released in 1978 by Dutch comedian Youp van ’t Hek. It features Rundgren singing the bizarre tune on piano. “I don’t usually do this kind of thing,” he says. “I’m not a Christmassy guy. When Cleopatra [Records] asked me to do a Christmas single, at first I thought the way I usually think: What can I do that nobody else would think of doing? I found a song that was a hit in Holland, where apparently having a rabbit for Christmas dinner is a fairly commonplace thing, where the kid raises the rabbit until Christmas and then it magically disappears. It’s just a little ditty about the cannibalism of rabbits.”
Rundgren also points out that if the Clearly Human virtual tour is successful, it could pave the way for the future of live performances, eliminating costs for the audience. It can also reduce health issues that musicians encounter when traveling from city to city, like catching the common flu.
“If you travel from coast to coast, you’re constantly changing time zones and it throws off your sleep patterns,” he says. “When you’re young, you can adjust to that. When you get to be my age, it has more of an effect on you. Especially for artists of a certain kind, it would be a great way to tour. If we do it right, people will feel like it’s the next best thing to actually going out to the show.”
Todd Rundgren Virtual Tour Dates
February 14 — Buffalo, NY
February 16 — Albany, NY
February 17 — New York City, NY
February 19 — Virginia Beach, VA
February 20 — Pittsburgh, PA
February 22 — Cleveland, OH
February 23 — Detroit, MI
February 25 — Indianapolis IN
February 26 — Chicago, IL
February 28 — Madison/Milwaukee, WI
March 1 — Minneapolis, MN
March 3 — Kansas City, MO
March 4 — St. Louis, MO
March 6 — Nashville, TN
March 7 — Dallas, TX
March 9 — Houston, TX
March 10 — Austin, TX
March 12 — Denver, CO
March 13 — Salt Lake City, UT
March 15 — Phoenix AZ
March 16 — San Diego, CA
March 18 — Los Angeles, CA
March 19 — San Francisco, CA
March 21 — Portland OR
March 22 — Seattle WA