On Saturday, rock legend Todd Rundgren returns to Syracuse for the final performance of the first leg of his White Knight: The Chivalrock Tour, which is also the finale of the Syracuse Jazz Fest.
Rundgren last appeared in the area on June 3, 2016 at Lakeview Amphitheater as part of Ringo Starr's All Starr Band. If you attended the Ringo show you heard Todd perform three of his most recognizable hits: "I Saw the Light," "Bang the Drum All Day" and "Love is the Answer."
This time around none of those songs will appear on the setlist, instead Rundgren will focus on some of his more recent work including his newest release, "White Knight," which features a collection of songs and collaborators as diverse as the artist known as a wizard for his studio work and other innovations.
As Rundgren approaches his 50th anniversary as a recording artist — a career that dates back to his short but memorable stint in Nazz — he still contends with the expectation from some concertgoers that he should focus on his radio hits. The problem with that approach is that he has not received any significant airplay or had a single on the chart since 1983, right around the time he delivered his last album to Bearsville Records.
Rundgren's fan base can be described as fiercely loyal in a way similar to the Deadheads that followed the Grateful Dead across the nation. They have not just followed Rundgren on the road. They have been on a musical journey that has explored styles ranging from bossa nova to EDM,
The Chivalrock Tour’s band features longtime Rundgren solo band members which include the versatile Jesse Gress on guitar, Kasim Sulton on bass and Prairie Prince of drums. Sulton is a current member of Blue Oyster Cult and former member of Utopia as well as an accomplished solo artist. Prince is an original member of The Tubes as well as a visual artist.
Rounding out the solo band is former Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes and a pair of dancers known as The Global Girls, Grace You and Ashle Worrick.
“White Knight” is a collaborative effort featuring songs with Daryl Hall (Hall & Oates), Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Joe Satriani, Donald Fagen (Steely Dan) and Joe Walsh.
“My records recently, since I live on Kauai and it is so remote, have become solo projects in every sense of the word, I play all of the instruments. It had become an echo chamber and I wanted to shake things up so I made this a collaborative effort,” Rundgren noted during a recent phone interview.
“The whole ‘White Knight’ concept came to me when Prince and David Bowie died. I am kind of the same generation, a kind of autere with your own image, you write your own music and you don’t fit into a box.”
Rundgren, like many of us, thought artists like Bowie and Prince would be around into their old age, and their passing had an impact on him and the concept of the album. Rundgren said he had been putting out albums in the hope that his rabid fan base would support them, but with “White Knight” he decided to “get serious.”
“The 'White Knight' thing is a crusade, not in the medieval sense. It’s carrying on that tradition that Prince, Bowie and artists did, the independent autere thing,” Rundgren said.
The tour is one of Rundgren’s biggest efforts in recent years, and most of the song's appear on albums released after his tenure with Bearsville Records. It is divided into segments, one focusing on the recent work, another more guitar oriented and another that features his Philly soul roots. The only major hit, "Hello It's Me," is saved for near the end of the show.
“This show is an attempt to merge things I have been doing recently," he said. "Hopefully it will serve the purpose of promoting the new album while presenting material that people are familiar with, albeit in a more spectacular concept.”
Saturday’s show marks the end of a tour that has not been without controversy. The anti-Trump song "Tin Foil Hat" that Rundgren recorded with Donald Fagen along with a quote from Rundgren that appeared in a major publication, circulated on conservative media outlets and culminated in an appearance on "Watters World," a Fox News show. Ultimately it had no impact on attendance at Rundgren's subsequent shows.
Even as this tour concludes Fans of Rundgren will have plenty of things to look forward to, including Rundgren's tour with Yes this summer, and a fan gathering in Boston over Labor Day weekend sponsored by the internet based podcast Rundgren Radio. Plans are also underway for a massive 70th birthday celebration next year.