"We haven't played Los Angeles since 1987," Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes told the sold-out throng of graying, nostalgic new-wavers at L.A.'s Hollywood Palladium on May 12. "Wow," frontman Ric Ocasek snapped back, without missing a beat. "That's like, 10 years!"
For those of you doing the math, it was more like 24 years. It just didn't seem like the Cars had been gone so long, because their material--both the classic '80s crowd-pleasers and the new songs off their just-released, surprisingly awesome, almost LCD Soundsystem-ish comeback album, Move Like This--sounded so very fresh, so very much in step with what's going on in indie-pop today. The old Cars sounded much more modern than that ill-fated, Ric Ocasek-less "New Cars" reboot from several years ago.
"This one's our newest single; I never thought I'd get to say that again," joked Hawkes before playing the moody, brooding pop epic "Sad Song," a tune that sounded right at home on the setlist between the winsome Shake It Up ballad "I'm Not The One" and Heartbeat City's intense title track. The jagged, semi-rapped "Blue Tip" and angsty, angular "Keep On Knocking" were other Move Like This highlights.
But of course, the vintage new wave (old wave?) hits were the numbers that elicited the best audience response--hardly a surprise, considering that most of these fans had waited nearly a quarter-century to hear the Cars' classics live. For the most part during their all-too-brief (75-minute) set, the Cars stuck to the must-hear hits ("Good Times Roll," "Since You're Gone," "My Best Friend's Girl," "You Might Think," "Just What I Needed," "Let's Go"...and my personal favorite, "Moving In Stereo," one of the sexiest songs ever and one undoubtedly intertwined in concertgoers' minds with Phoebe Cates's iconic red-bikini'd Fast Times scene).
But "I'm In Touch With Your World," a track off the band's 1978 album debut that they'd never performed in Los Angeles, and hadn't played live since the '70s, was a true leftfield surprise.
The show was not without its flaws. First of all, it was too damn short. (Really, Cars? You go away for 24 years, and then only play for an hour and 15 minutes? And you don't play other obvious hits like "Magic," "Hello Again," "Candy-O," or "Shake It Up"? Yes, I understand that your aging audience needed probably needed to get home to relieve the babysitter, but ending your set before 10pm was a little disappointing.) Second, for a band that ironically titled their reunion album Move Like This, they pretty much didn't MOVE at all. Seriously, Kraftwerk's dummies move onstage more than these guys. The Cars' icy demeanor sort of worked with their Cold War-era sound, but still, a little more onstage enthusiasm would have been welcome.
And finally, the lamentable fact was, Benjamin Orr, the band's original bassist/founding member and singer of many of the band's signature songs (including their biggest chart hit, "Drive"), was not there; he died of pancreatic cancer in 2000. Hawkes dedicated the show to him ("A tip of the hat to Benjamin Orr," he announced to great applause); Ocasek obviously had little trouble handling all the vocal duties (although he did flub "Moving In Stereo" a bit); and guitarist Elliot Easton's fretwork was as recognizable as ever. But Benjamin's absence was a sad reminder that a full-fledged Cars reunion will never truly happen.
But this came pretty close, so hey, I'll take it! Here's the full Palladium setlist:
Good Times Roll
Since You're Gone
Up & Down
My Best Friend's Girl
Touch & 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