Longtime fans of Todd Rundgren’s music have learned never to expect the same thing twice. That’s because the renowned multi-instrumentalist, avant-garde composer and producer has touched on everything from pop-rock balladry to experimental psychedelia, synth-laden progressive rock and hard rock in his long and storied career.
An Unpredictable Evening with Todd Rundgren, the artist’s current tour, will land in Wilkes-Barre on Sunday for an 8 p.m. performance at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts.
The tour, Rundgren said in a recent phone interview, is different than the meticulously planned, high-production shows he and his bandmates in reunited progressive rock outfit Utopia performed during a series of gigs that ended in June.
“This, in some ways, is much less about the theatrical elements and much more about the music itself,” Rudgren said. “It’s unpredictable in that the list of songs that I use for my starting point includes a lot of material that isn’t mine. I’m not just celebrating my music but music that, in general, had an influence on me, music that people can be nostalgic about … songs that people have never heard before and songs from my catalog.”
Rundgren and his band will have a song in mind to begin each set on the tour, but what follows is never predetermined.
“We don’t know what songs we’re playing or what order we’re playing them in,” he said. “I think another reason people enjoy this show is I talk more than I do with more theatrical shows. In those contexts, I’m more assuming a character. In the ‘unpredictable’ context, I’m being myself more or less.”
As Rundgren progresses from tour to tour, a network of musicians he works with frequently provides a sense of consistency. Bassist Kasim Sulton, for instance, is both a member of Utopia and plays in Rundgren’s band; fellow Utopia bandmate Roger Powell has played in both outfits; and drummer Prairie Prince has performed from both catalogs.
“There’s that level of familiarity,” Rundgren said. “In some ways, the parts are interchangeable. … It’s not much of an adjustment for me.”
Rundgren’s latest studio album, 2017’s “White Knight,” was a departure from his creative process on other recent albums in that he deliberately sought a collaborative process with other musicians.
Living on the Hawaiian island Kauai since the 1990’s, the Upper Darby native has chosen to be a one-man band and studio presence on late-career records, an approach he approximated as early as 1973’s cult-masterpiece “A Wizard, A True Star.”
On “White Knight,” Rundgren pooled ideas with greats like Joe Walsh, Daryl Hall, Donald Fagen and later-generation soundlab scientist Trent Reznor.
“The process worked out so well that I’m continuing to do it,” Rundgren said. “It was a pretty successful record for me. I’m doing more collaborations with other artists and talking with my label about forming an imprint to release these collaborations, ones I might be involved in and some I might be fostering.”
Always the innovator, Rundgren has been at the forefront of studio experimentation, listener-interactive albums and audience-interactive live shows throughout his career. Technology is still something he embraces and looks forward to embracing.
“I’m looking into some different ways to present a live show,” he said. “Using some developing, virtual technologies like VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality), I think it would be interesting for me to have performances that could be streamed live and listeners or audience members could change the context of performing. For instance, I could be sitting on your coffee table singing a song if you look through your device.”
Tickets are available for Rundgren’s Kirby Center performance at the venue box office, online at kirbycenter.org and by phone at 570-826-1100.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @RMatthewMattei.