Todd Rundgren Shares 'Road to Utopia' From Utopia's Reunion Live Album: Premiere
When Todd Rundgren's Utopia hit the road for the first time in 32 years in 2018, there was no question fans would want some sort of official document of the trek. So Todd Rundgren's Utopia Live at the Chicago Theatre on CD and Blu-ray/DVD April 5 -- whose rendition of "Road to Utopia" premieres exclusively below -- was inevitable.
"Certainly, yeah, if we were gonna go through that much trouble, there would be a document," Rundgren tells Billboard. "Additionally we made a myriad sort of deals, merchandising and other sorts of things, in order to finance the tour because we knew it wasn't going to go on from a terrifically long time and it would have to pay for itself in a relatively short term. So the video was always part of the plan."
The 33-date Utopia tour reunited Rundgren, bassist Kasim Sulton and drummer Willie Wilcox during the spring of 2018, adding keyboardist Gil Assayas when Ralph Shuckett was sidelined by medical issues. The quartet played two-set shows, the first focusing on the more expansive prog-rock of the early Utopia catalog, the second on the poppier side of the group's canon.
"It was fun," Rundgren says in retrospect. "It started off very nerve-racking because of the volume of music we had to cover as well as, you know, the band hadn't played together for 35 years or whatever. So trying to regain some sort of tightness, synch, stuff like that, it doesn't must come immediately. It takes a couple gigs for all that to settle in. But as the tour went on it got to be more comfortable and more fun and lasted just about the right amount of time."
Rundgren says there's been no discussion of any more Utopia touring. He doesn't rule it out entirely, but he doesn't sound particularly optimistic, either. "I don't think that anyone is dying to do it again," he says. "It's not the kind of thing we can just put together again 'cause we couldn't claim that we hadn't played for 32 years and make that kind of event again. So then you're back to being a working band again, and I don't think any of us had that intention. From my standpoint it was principally for the benefit of the fans; I was not sitting around yearning to do it, but the fans would constantly say, 'Is this ever gonna happen?' and finally we figured out a way to make it happen." Assayas, interestingly, has joined the Kasim Sulton's Utopia band and is about to release his own album.
Rundgren, meanwhile, has moved on to his next project -- The Individualist Tour, supporting the publication of his memoir The Individualist: Digressions, Dreams and Dissertations last December. After some single shows in England and the Netherlands starting April 3, the tour comes to North America on April 10 for a series of two-show visits in 10 cities -- plus Tokyo during May -- which will feature historic video content and material from Rundgren's days with the Nazz through 1998, the period covered by the book. He'll also hold an intermission Q&A at each show, answering questions submitted in the lobby as fans arrive.
"It'll be a historical overview," Rundgren promises. "I don't know that I'll stop the show and start reading from the book or anything, but there will be talking. And the show will have a lot of the earlier stuff that fans remember, and we'll be playing it the way they remember it -- in other words we won't be rearranging it into something weird. And because we're playing two nights in most cities the second half of the show will be different each night. Hopefully that keeps everybody entertained -- and keeps me entertained as well. The last 20 years of my music is invisible in this show, but there are fans who have been very faithful and have followed everything and know everything that I've done who will be, I think, quite satisfied with that."
Many of those fans, meanwhile, were disappointed Rundgren will not be part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's new class when it's inducted next week in Brooklyn after he appeared on the ballot last fall. But Rundgren says he's not losing sleep over it himself.
"I didn't expect it and have never cared about it," he says. "The hardest thing was keeping my fans' expectations within reasonable bounds because they are very naive about it. I'm not; It's some weird Illuminati thing and nobody understands how it works and who does the voting and the nominee selections and all that sort of crap. I'm not looking for some organization to acknowledge me, somehow. Besides, the Hall of fame doesn't make any sense to me because musicians don't have to retire. Athletes retire, and that's when they go into the hall of fame, because they're not playing anymore. But everybody (the Rock Hall) is inducting now is still playing, so how can you say you've got the measure of them? You don't. So, no, I really don't care."
Rundgren's The Individualist Tour dates include:
April 3 - Paradiso - Amsterdam, Netherlands
April 6 - Eventim Apollo - London, UK
April 10 - Buckhead Theatre - Atlanta, GA
April 11 - Buckhead Theatre - Atlanta, GA
April 13 - State Theatre - Washington, DC
April 14 - State Theatre - Washington, DC
April 16 - Town Hall - New York, NY
April 17 - Town Hall - New York, NY
April 19 - Berklee Performance Center - Boston, MA
April 20 - Berklee Performance Center - Boston, MA
April 23 - Athenaeum Theatre - Chicago, IL
April 24 - Athenaeum Theatre - Chicago, IL
April 27 - Danforth Music Hall - Toronto, ON
April 28 - Danforth Music Hall - Toronto, ON
May 01 - Fillmore - Philadelphia, PA
May 02 - Fillmore - Philadelphia, PA
May 05 - Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square - Cleveland, OH
May 06 - Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square - Cleveland, OH
May 09 - The Wiltern - Los Angeles, CA
May 10 - The Wiltern - Los Angeles, CA
May 12 - Palace of Fine Arts - San Francisco, CA
May 13 - Palace of Fine Arts - San Francisco, CA
May 22 - Sumida Triphony Hall - Tokyo, Japan
May 23 - NHK Hall - Osaka, Japan