Todd Rundgren Goes To Cyberia!
As Todd keeps making memorable music, it’s time to celebrate one of his most progressive musical experiments: a fully interactive concert experience that included what was called “The Todd Pod!”
Todd Live in “The Todd Pod”!
What you see here is a somewhat blurred shot of Todd holding court in his “Todd Pod!” The release of Todd’s new CD “Global” has sparked a lot of spirited discussion on Todd fan sites – his EDM-influenced beats are loved by most fans, but seem to have also confused others at the same time.
This isn’t new for Todd – as far back as “A Wizard A True Star”, Todd has mixed it up and gone off in musical directions that perplexed some fans – but he has always followed his own vision, and as hardcore fans we are all the better for that! In fact, I just listened to “AWATS” again and it’s a real masterpiece that holds up as fresh as the day it was released…
Todd Goes “TR-i!”
Todd has always been an innovator, creating some of the first music videos as well as graphic software for computers. Some of Todd’s most experimental music was created in the 1990’s…but the innovation wasn’t in the songs he was creating, instead it was in the way Todd chose to present it to fans.
Todd wanted to let computers, and the nascent online social media of the time, drive his work. That led to one of the most unique musical experiments ever presented by a Singer/Songwriter to fans.
In the 1990’s, Todd created a website that allowed fans to interact directly with him with an immediacy never seen before in music. “Interactivity” was exploding along with the birth of the internet, and once again Todd was at the forefront of this new horizon.
Todd began calling himself “TR-I”, Todd Rundgren interactive, as he dove headfirst into the deep end of the burgeoning internet pool. Fans could subscribe to Todd’s online “Patronet” website, which allowed access to Todd’s new music AS HE CREATED IT!
The site also provided the tools to manipulate the music as fans chose. Music lovers were actually “interacting” with Todd, and could take his music and manipulate it on their computer as well. It was an exciting time for fans, who got to hear a lot of interesting music that Todd released exclusively on his website.
In an era now when everything is available instantly on any device, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary this was for the early 90’s!
Some of that music can be found on “One Long Year”, Todd’s 2000 album comprised of music from the website. Among the songs on this CD were “I Hate My Frickin’ I.S.P.” and “The Surf Talks.” It also includes his mini-masterpiece “Where Does The Time Go?”
Todd Goes To Cyberia In Majestic VHS!
One of the benefits of subscribing to the site was getting bonus material from Todd as well.
For example, I was sent a video of Todd’s interactive October 7, 1994 show from London! The VHS tape came in a white stenciled box , and as you can see, each one of the limited edition copies was signed by Todd!
For fans who haven’t seen this, Todd put on one of a kind musical performance, “in the round” – with video cameras, computers, musical instruments and all of his songs at the tip of his fingers. Todd performed in what was called the “Todd Pod”, or, what the New York Times called at the time “a high-tech playpen”.
And now, “Live in Cyberia” is available on Todd’s “Toddstore” site!
Here is how the site describes this unique effort:
“Pioneering musician/composer/producer/innovator Todd Rundgren built the world’s first interactive music system and then launched a tour in which no two concerts were alike and audiences were an integral part of the show.”
I took out my old VHS recently and watched the concert again, and wanted to share my review with fans.
Entering The Todd Pod!
First, the stage is in the round, so the audience is completely surrounding Todd. This is part of the show’s interactivity, as Todd explains the special lighting system he created for the show.
“When the light goes red the space down here is mine, all mine”, Todd explains. That means that when the red light goes on, no one can be on stage except for Todd.
When the light is yellow, then the three “TR-I” girls will be on stage. It’s fun to see that Michelle Rundgren is one of them!
Then Todd announces to the crowd that the green light means “the stage is yours!” That’s right, Todd lets the audience be an interactive part of the show!
As the crowd cheers wildly, Todd waves his arm and a fog machine begins billowing smoke – and Todd emerges with a bra! He quips, “your date for tonight, there she is, ok?”
The live concert begins with “Worldwide Epiphany”, which is noticeably energized when performed live with a crowd. Todd throws himself completely into the song, and is a never-stopping ball of energy. He seems to draw even more energy from the crowd, and while performing the song he sprays them with silly string!
Here is a clip from the newly remastered DVD on the “Toddstore!”
During the song, split screen monitors above the stage are showing lots of fun animated videos and graphics, which continue to appear throughout the entire show.
Suddenly the green light flashes, and Todd calls the crowd up for the end of the song. They rush the stage, and he sprays everyone again with silly string! The energy is absolutely incredible, a great song that proves once again how his music absolutely soars when performed live.
Todd then seques into “International Feel”, and his voice is strong, hitting all the falsetto high notes perfectly.
Todd ends “Feel” with an elongated guitar solo, then goes into “Secret Society”, but after a minute of the intro he invites a fan to come up on stage and play the guitar on join him on guitar!
As you can tell, the show is completely interactive, as more fans come up to play lead guitar on the song! The best part is when one guitarist is awful and Todd announces: “no posers here, we want a real guitar player!”
Next up is Todd’s song “Property” – and once again, the song has renewed energy and life when performed live, and I also noticed how the bass line sounds a lot like Eminem’s “Business” from 2003.
Todd then shows the audience how each one of the keys on his keyboard represents a song, explaining how each key allows him to jump to a different song or musical sequence from his songbook.
The “TR-I” girls come back to dance to “New World Order” and soon the audience is called up on stage as well by the green light and the whole stage vibrates.
“Chant for a world united, chant for a world united by love!”
Todd launches into a beautiful and energetic version of “Chant!” While Todd is singing he starts a battle with a plastic shark, flinging it at an audience member, who flings it right back! By now, the stage begins to look a like a spiders’ web because of all the silly string being sprayed everywhere, and the audience is a giant sea of fans pulsating to Todd’s music.
“Day Job” and “Fascist Christ” are performed next. What is amazing to me in watching this live event is that Todd is performing all of this music live while running all of the computers and keyboards himself! You see him choosing songs, leading the crowd, cueing the dancers, and playing guitar and keyboards simultaneously!
His energy level is phenomenal, he just never stops moving, and he is completely engaged with the audience, who crowd the stage waiting for their next “green light!”
Todd launches into a fun “Bang On The Drum” next, and of course the “green light” flashes, and fans are called up to play the drum part.
While fans “bang on the drums”, Todd goes crazy with more silly string, to the point where he finally yells: “I’ve lost control…ah, fuck it!”
At that point, Todd and the TR-I girls escape, leaving the stage engulfed by fans, who just keep dancing to Todd’s iconic beat.
This show lasts just over an hour, and the energy level never flags! The best part is that now you can own this moment in Todd history as well, because the Toddstore has a new DVD version, which includes two Todd interviews from that time, as well as footage of an in-store CD-I demonstration.
Todd’s “Live In Cyberia” is one of the most extraordinary performances I’ve ever seen. Todd’s desire to create an interactive environment with his fans was visionary, and proved a terrific environment for him to perform.
Let me know what you think!