Within the pantheon of rock and roll, there are relics, and there living legends. Last night at the Fillmore, on the fourth show of its current tour, the Cars proved that they are far from antiquity. In fact, the quartet blew a packed house away with a set that, while heavy with new material, still managed to bring tears to the eyes of fans who never thought they would see the evening come to fruition -- after all, the Cars have been on ice for almost a quarter-century and frontman Ric Ocasek proclaimed (on several occasions) that the band would never reunite.
Opening appropriately with the first track from their 1978 self-titled debut, The Cars kicked into "Good Times Roll," which was greeted with howls and upraised hands, an explosive response from a crowd who's energy felt as though it had been saving up for this moment for decades. Ocasek finished the song and blew a kiss in reciprocation for the adoration before jumping right into "Blue Tip," the first of many songs played from the band's 2011 release,Move Like This
. From this point forward, it became clear that The Cars could and would do no wrong, no matter what era the gentlemen chose to pull from.
The first few songs kept each band member seemingly tethered to his place, but as the short evening wore on, left-handed guitarist Elliot Easton swiveled his guitar neck toward Ocasek's headstock and danced to the edge of the stage, while keyboardist and sometimes bassist Greg Hawkes jumped and wiggled about spryly from behind his set-up. "Since You're Gone" led into "Up and Down," which prompted some symbolic commentary from Hawkes, who remarked that he couldn't remember which side of thePanorama
LP the song came from.
Ocasek took an almost coy stance from behind his signature tinted glasses, waving with big hands and chattering a "love you, too" response to the mixed-gender audience that hung over the barricade and onto his every word. "Best Friend's Girl" rang out with the timeless synth-pop intelligence that The Cars gave birth to so many years ago, Ocasek barely letting his left leg free from a stick-straight position to do a tiny rock and roll bend or two.
More videos from last night and the set list are on the next page.
"Hits Me" from the new record was -- like all of the band's 2011 tracks -- seamless within the collection of classics, Hawkes coming out from behind his Rolands and Macbook to take a turn at bass. "Touch and Go" began with a verbal hat-tipping to friend and founding band member, the late Benjamin Orr, whom the band chose not to replace when reforming, instead utilizing Hawkes multi-instrumental talents and Ocasek's voice to fill in.
Like breathing statues on once-in-a-lifetime display, individual beams of light shot up from the foot of the stage, illuminating each member's distinct and cartoonish features, as they wandered through the chunky rhythm of "I'm in Touch With Your World" and "Keep On Knocking." During "You Might Think," Ocasek handed the spotlight to his beat-carrying, handclapping audience -- and as the venue was momentarily flooded with light, the crowd screamed "...but you kept it goin', till the sun fell down/Kept it goin'," back at him. Pleased, Ocasek stepped right back in to finish the song before dropping two more new tracks, "Drag on Forever" and "Free."
The ever strange-looking front man's clothes hung onto his wire-coat-hanger-for-a frame, Ocasek's jet-black hair barely gripping his neck as he lifted an boney hand to blow another kiss. "Sad Song" showcased Easton's gorgeous yet not overly self-indulgent guitar solos, one of many the audience welcomed from him through out the show. Live, Easton's guitar work stood out as a reminder that, even through the awesome head-shaking haze of Hawke's signature synth-lines and Ocasek's daffy, Roy Orbison-ish band leading, The Cars are still a traditional electric guitar-fronted rock and roll band.
Slinging his guitar to the side of his gawky body during some songs, Ocasek chose to remove it altogether for "Heartbeat City," resigning his hands to pockets before picking the instrument up again to close out with "Let's Go." The stage was only dark for a few minutes before the spacey, desolate whistling of "Moving In Stereo" began to permeate the crowded venue, at which point the band reappeared, kicking the iconic song into the necessary higher gear, each pulse of Hawke's synth scattering over drummer David Robinson's slow-kick beat. "Just What I Needed" was the only other accompanying encore song, and just around 9:40 p.m., The Cars left the stage for good.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Personal Bias:I'm not sure if it is considered bias, but I had been waiting for this moment since I was seven years old, not thinking I would ever actually get to see The Cars perform in the flesh.
Random Detail: I stood next to a very nice woman who drove from Montana to see The Cars. She told me the band was staying in the Ritz-Carlton Denver, where she and her husband were staying. The crowd, in general, was extremely friendly and just happy to be in the moment, which no doubt lent itself to the jubilant nature of The Cars' performance.
By the Way: When I discovered The Cars in elementary school through my parent's record collection, I, in turn, discovered Vargas Girls. Both interests resonate in my work as both an artist and a musician to this day.
The Cars Fillmore Auditorium - Denver, CO 05.15.11
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1. Good Times Roll 2. Blue Tip 3. Since You're Gone 4. Up and Down 5. Best Friend's Girl 6. Hits Me 7. Touch & Go 8. I'm In Touch With Your World 9. Keep On Knocking 10. You Might Think 11. Drag On Forever 13. Free 14. I'm Not The One 15. Sad Song 16. Heartbeat City 17. Let's Go
1. Moving In Stereo 2. Just What I Needed
No photography was allowed at the Denver show, but it was allowed at the Oakland show on Friday. See those photos here, courtesy of SF Weekly. The Cars at The Fox