The Cars in Concert

Groucho and Margaret take off to Chicago to see one of his all-time favorite bands! If CHUD cant give you timely death metal commentary, then you will be subjected to this! Beware, he has a review of the new’ish Duran Duran album sitting around somewhere!

From May 2011

I wont drag the back-story out… I have been a monster Cars fan for years. When I was a kid… I bought every LP (Thats vinyl for you young kids) and put them in special frames to decorate my bedroom with. I bought all the albums on LP, Cassette and ultimately CD. They now all reside on my iPod!

The last time the WHOLE band toured was the late 80’s! 1980’s (Again for the younger readers). A time when I had limited resources to get to Chicago to see a show. In 2000, Ben Orr, the other lead singer of the band died of cancer; that was a huge setback. Recently, a few of the band members put on a tour with Todd Rundgren calling themselves the New Cars. The key player missing for all the recent action was Ric Ocasek. He had made it pretty clear that he had no interest in “doing” The Cars anymore. So, it was pretty well set in my head that one of my dreams to see The Cars in concert would probably never happen.

So, imagine my surprise when I read that the band had been working on a new album and were gearing up for a tour. I first imagined it was a band without Ocasek… Or, some kind of new lead singer to take the place of Orr. I was wrong on both thoughts… Thankfully!

From May 2011

The band is back with all the players less Ben Orr.

  • Ric Ocasek: Lead Singer, Rhythm Guitar
  • Elliot Easton: Lead Guitarist and Hook Master!
  • Greg Hawkes: Keyboardist Extraordinaire (and bass guitar imitator)
  • David Robinson: Drums

When you see this crew on paper… Its hard to imagine how this show is going to go. I had read some reviews online that they stumbled through a few tunes on early shows. I had also heard that Hawkes and Easton have shared duties singing the Ben Orr songs. This knowledge was all kicking around in my head before the show started. Adding a bit of fear to my dream night!

It was The Cars only, no opening band. Show was set to start at 8PM… The crowd of a few thousand old folks like me waited patiently till 8:15 for the band to take the stage.

IT WAS A ROUGH START! Listen, Ric Ocasek has more musical talent in his fingernail than I have ever possessed in this body over a lifetime, so its hard for me to criticize ANYTHING about a performance by my idols! The first song, “Goodtimes Roll” started off shaky. Ric sounded “off”, Hawkes was over-amped and the backup chorus was not there. I was scared!

Thankfully, that was all it was. A rough start. The next tune was off the new album, they hopped right in and jammed on “Blue Tip”. After that, it seemed like everybody clicked together.

Greg Hawkes showed me a whole other side that I had never seen before. He was energetic and personable behind the keyboards. He seemed to be the character behind the band. I also noticed that Hawkes must have been running the bass lines that were missing from the vacancy of Orr. David Robinson played REAL drums for the most part… I just assumed that he would be all tricked out with an electronic drum kit… All triggered and computerized. Not so. He sounded and looked great. Lastly, Elliott Easton. I had watched him on a few videos with The New Cars and totally expected him to rock. He did. That dude knows every guitar solo and hook inside and out. When he played the solo for Touch and Go, (Which is one of his recorded best) he didn’t miss a lick! The only diss on Easton, I noticed he was always late or non existent on the chorus’. Whats up with that??? They’re Not gonna sing themselves! Easton was digging on all the “hooks” and looked like he was enjoying himself. Ocasek smiled a few times… He looked like he was finally at ease by the time the encore series started. At one point in a song, he was not playing guitar, and I could tell that he didn’t know what to do with his hands. I think he was thankful when his guitar was needed again. Ocasek did a great job of singing the Ben Orr classics. “Just What I Needed” and “Moving in Stereo” were just fine with Ric on the lead vocal. I think the crowd was singing louder than him on “Lets Go”.

I wish some of the tunes would have had some liberty taken with them. The final encore (We got three!!!) was “Your All I’ve Got Tonight”, and had a raging guitar solo that lasted for 3 or 4 minutes. That was the only song that was not played EXACTLY as it was recorded. I am sure this had everything to do with Hawkes having bass rhythms and keyboard tracks set up for every song. But in the end, that extra attention on the production took away a little from the live unpredictable element you look for in a live show. They were too perfect? That’s a small complaint for a show that I have been waiting 25 years to see. Its really more of an observation.

All in all… I had mixed expectations going in. The band showed why they have been celebrated and remembered for over 30 years. All kinds of pop classics were loved and sung along by young and old in the crowd. Any fears on the performance I had were unfounded and faded out of my head 10 minutes into the show. These guys still have the gas to keep this trip going! (Get it? Gas!)

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