For the first time in 24 years, the original line-up of new wave icons the Cars are on the road (guitarist/vocalist Ric Ocasek, guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson – bassist Benjamin Orr passed away in 2000). The group is doing a quick 10-city tour in support of their surprisingly decent new record, “Move Like This,” and stopped at the Fillmore Auditorium last night.
Originally formed in 1976, along with like-minded acts such as Blondie and Devo, the Cars are that rare band that is poppy enough for the mainstream, yet quirky enough for the indie set. And this was apparent among the eclectic crowd, which skewed to the over-35 long-time fan sect, but saw a few younger faces dotted throughout the packed venue as well.
The band came out sounding strong, as the Fillmore’s acoustics are ideal for their minimalist power pop. They opened with the classic “Good Times Roll” before jumping right into the synth-driven new tune “Blue Tip,” followed up by another nugget, “Since You’re Gone,” to which the audience, clearly there to hear the band’s timeless tunes, roared their approval.
However, as if to prove this is not just a nostalgia trip, Ocasek and company shied away from playing hit after hit, throwing in plenty of new tracks and some album cuts from their back catalog. Ironically, the lanky, ageless Ocasek, in skinny black tie and Ray Bans, did look as though he’d stepped out of a time warp from 1987.
Guitarist Easton’s lively performance stood out from his reserved counterparts (the Cars were never known for being too lively on stage) as he ran through several tasteful solos (e.g. “Best Friend’s Girl”) and bantered briefly to the crowd between tracks.
Hawkes stepped out from behind his impressive keyboard set-up to play bass guitar and offer a “tip of the hat” to his late band mate (Orr) before adeptly performing the punchy, serpentine bass lines of “Touch and Go.”
Weighed down with newer cuts, the second half of their brief 80-minute set lagged a bit. The Cars ran the risk of losing the audience’s full attention before the atmospheric title track to 1985’s “Heartbeat City” brought everyone back into focus just in time for anthemic set closer “Let’s Go.”
The band returned for a quick encore that offered the welcome synth-pop of radio staples “Moving In Stereo” and “Just What I Needed,” before leaving the crowd cheering for more. Though never too revved up, the Cars executed their set tightly and proved through the strength of their songwriting that they are an American classic, no matter the decade.
Good times roll
Since You’re Gone
Up and Down
My Best Friend’s Girl
Touch and Go
I’m In Touch With Your World
Keep on Knocking
You Might Think
Drag On Forever
I’m Not The One
Moving In Stereo
Just What I Needed
Michael Behrenhausen is a Denver-based writer, musician and regular Reverb contributor. The worst crime he ever did was play some rock ‘n’ roll.
Tina Hagerling is a Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. Check out more of her concert photography.