Friday, May 20, 2011

The Cars Reignite (Somewhat), Part II -- Concert Review

Concert Review

The Cars
Riviera Theatre, Chicago
May 18, 2011

I've liked the Cars for as long as I can remember, probably since first hearing "Just What I Needed" off their fantastic self-titled debut album in 1978, or certainly by the next year when I bought Candy-O.

The Boston-based quintet--now reunited as a foursome after bassist/singer Benjamin Orr died of pancreatic cancer in 2000--were never quite my favorite band, nor particularly close, but I really enjoyed their string of heyday hits and feel they've held up rather well. I don't recall specifically having passed up a chance to catch a Cars show in their original incarnation, but I had never seen them in concert. But from clips, I always got the impression that they weren't much of a live act, seemingly standing stiff as posts on-stage.

And whether or not that was the case in 1984, with the band members now in their 60s, the Cars didn't exactly give a high-octane performance Wednesday night at the Riv. It was still fun hearing the classics, even if--aside from a couple cases where Ric Ocasek handled the vocals on tunes originally sung by Orr--they basically just replicated the recorded versions. (For those wondering, the talented Ocasek remains a homely and boring beanpole, yet remains married to former model Paulina Porizkova.)

Songs off the surprisingly strong new album, Move Like This (review here) didn't sound out of place, but the show really only came alive when the Cars rolled through harder rocking relics like "You Might Think," "Let's Go," "Just What I Needed" and the show closer, "You're All I've Got Tonight," the only occasion on which the band stretched things out a bit.

Otherwise, over a 19-song, 88-minute show (with no opening act) that hewed to the same setlist as all their recent gigs--besides the wise addition of "You're All I've Got Tonight"--the Cars were pretty much on cruise control. I realize that they were never a fervent live act and just a few shows into their first tour in 24 years isn't the time to "Shake It Up." But it would've been nice had they rotated in that tune and/or a few other missing gems like "Bye Bye Love," "Magic" and "It's All I Can Do." And while "Good Times Roll" is a great song, "Hello Again" (off 1984's "Heartbeat City") not only would've made a more thematic opener, it would've got things off to a more rocking start. By the time the Cars kicked into high gear, the show was over.

I'm glad I finally got a chance to see the Cars live, but especially given that I could hardly see them over all the heads in front of me, the reunion tour DVD will probably be every bit as satisfying. If my well-worn copy of The Cars' Greatest Hits isn't already.

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