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Todd Rundgren shares spotlight on ‘White Knight’

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Todd Rundgren, whose new album offers collaborations spanning genres and generations, plays the Fillmore. (Courtesy Jean Lannen)
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Since 1966, pop mastermind Todd Rundgren has been recording music, first with cult combo The Nazz, then as a solo artist and a member of Utopia. Preparing to turn 70 next year, he felt a slight sense of urgency kicking in, so on his 2017 studio album “White Knight” — his 27th, which he introduces the San Francisco this weekend — he assembled a hand-picked dream team of all-star cameos. It includes Robyn, Daryl Hall, Donald Fagen, Joe Walsh, even R&B legend Bettye LaVette.

It proved less difficult to do than he imagined, thanks to changes in studio rules and technology.

“Because I live on Kauai, it’s often difficult to get artists to fly over there,” says the production whiz, who played every instrument on his own landmark 1972 “Something/Anything?” breakthrough before going on to oversee releases from Meatloaf, Patti Smith, Cheap Trick and The Psychedelic Furs.

He adds, “I thought I’d take a different approach this time, because these days, with file-sharing services like DropBox and Hightail, you don’t even need to be in the same room with other people to collaborate with them. So I’d send my ideas off and truly be surprised by what I got back, with no distracting in-studio discussion.”

One “White Knight” contributor Rundgren met face to face was Fagen, who happened to be vacationing in Hawaii when his friend was putting the record together. They bounced ideas back and forth, until they composed “Tin Foil Hat,” an anti-Trump screed set to a jazzy arrangement that feels like “Aja”-retro Steely Dan.

Among Rundgren’s great strengths is how he can really play to his audience: The “White Knight” tune “Chance For Us” with Hall rides a frothy New Wave synth riff that’s vintage Hall and Oates, while a Trent Reznor-assisted “Deaf Ears” clanks with Nine Inch Nails aggression.

Rundgren’s knob-twiddling wisdom has been in demand elsewhere. He taught a 2010 course titled “The Ballad of Todd Rundgren” at Indiana University and got honorary doctoral degrees from Berklee College of Music and DePauw University in 2017. He says, “IU was my first major sojourn into the world of academia, because I actually never went to college. But those kids were brilliant, and I learned more from them than they probably did from me.”

In 2018, Rundgren will return to the university. He’ll also reconvene his music festival Toddstock — not in Hawaii, but in Virginia this time (“So fans can drive there”).

He refuses to abandon his “White Knight” concept: “Just the other day, I got a finished track back from someone I’d wanted on the original album. So this process is definitely going to continue.”


IF YOU GO

Todd Rundgren
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Dec. 23
Tickets: $39.50
Contact: (415) 346-6000, www.ticketmaster.com

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