Eight months after frustrating casual fans with a concert of uncharacteristic electronic dance music, Todd Rundgren returned to the VooDoo on Thursday to perform a representative survey of his remarkable career.
An audience of several hundred were rewarded with a set list that ranged from a frenzied reading of “Open My Eyes,” a psychedelic garage-rock rave-up he recorded with the Nazz in 1968, to a brawny makeover of the new song “Soothe.”
“This is a show designed for those of you who have been in a coma for the past 45 years,” he said.
Although he didn’t hide his contempt for people who are “threatened by what’s happened” to popular music in recent years, Rundgren satisfied the desires of classic rock purists for almost two hours.
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Rather than repeating successful formulas, Rundgren has never stopped innovating. “Runddans,” one of two albums of experimental material he’s released in 2015, is a collaboration with a pair of avant-garde Norwegian musicians. Rundgren’s career as the producer of landmark recordings by artists including Patti Smith, Badfinger and Meat Loaf often overshadows his solo work.
Although it’s against his nature, Rundgren focused on familiar material on Thursday. The concert was bookended by hits from his 1972 album “Something/Anything.” The evening began with a faithful rendition of the serene pop gem “I Saw the Light” and ended with a sly interpretation of the soft-rock nugget “Hello It’s Me.”
In between was perfect power-pop (“Couldn’t I Just Tell You”), impeccable mainstream rock (“Love in Action”), topical material (the anti-war plea “Lysistrata” and the condemnation of religious fanaticism “Godsaid”), a goofy novelty hit (“Bang the Drum All Day”) and plenty of blue-eyed soul.
Rundgren seemed most enthused while effectively crooning a medley of Curtis Mayfield, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye material. He added wistful vocals to an R&B-steeped version of his breakup ballad “It Wouldn’ Have Made Any Difference.”
Rundgren’s theatrics compensated for the show’s no-frills production. He carped at his four-piece backing band, made snarky remarks about the Country Club Plaza and vehemently objected to shouted requests. Rundgren also turned to his acid tongue on himself thirty minutes into his outing.
“This is billed as a greatest hits show,” Rundgren said. “If that was true the show would almost be over by now.”
Rundgren may have only a handful of substantial hits, but on Thursday almost every song he performed sounded like a flawless classic.
“I Saw the Light,” “Love of the Common Man,” “Open My Eyes,” “Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel,” “Love Science,” “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference,” :Hammer in My Heart,” “Lost Horizon,” “Black and White,” “Determination,” “Godsaid,” “Love in Action,” “Lysistrata,” “Soothe,” “Bang the Drum All Day,” “I’m So Proud/Ooo Baby Baby/I Want You,” “Buffalo Grass,” “Drive,” “Rock Love,” “No. 1 Lowest Common Denominator,” “Couldn’t I Just Tell You, “Hello It’s Me”