GRAND PRAIRIE – Somebody tell keyboardist Greg Hawkes and guitarist Elliot Easton that defining rock frontmen aren't interchangeable. As the only remaining original members of the Cars, they should know better than to try to replace Ric Ocasek, whose lanky frame and hiccupy voice embodied the band's brand of chugging, synthesized, new wave-ish pop rock.
But there was Todd Rundgren at the lead microphone Saturday night at Nokia Theatre singing for a band dubbed New Cars. He's Mr. Ocasek's replacement. Behind him was Mr. Hawkes, Mr. Easton and other "new" Cars players Kasim Sulton filling in for the late bassist-singer Benjamin Orr and Prairie Prince drumming for David Robinson. The show, part of the Road Rage Tour, was a double-bill with Blondie, which thankfully still retains Debbie Harry and even key musicians Chris Stein, Clem Burke and Jimmy Destri.
Blondie's 70-minute set was the highlight of the gig attended by 2,250 fans. Although Ms. Harry seemed a bit tepid during the opening number, "Call Me," she quickly found her footing and turned in a fun, animated and even a bit seductive performance that proved at 60 she can still have a good time. The band, which features three fresh recruits, is on its final tour, they've adamantly proclaimed.
If this truly is Blondie's swan song, we'll remember them fondly. How cool to hear album cuts such as "Accidents Never Happen," "Hanging on the Telephone" and "Pretty Baby" mixed in with the biggies – "Heart of Glass," "The Tide Is High" and "Rapture," which got extended to include a second rap that could have crowned Ms. Harry the mighty MC Deb. She was at her best when she launched into a twirling dance at the side of the stage or when she struck a pose on the beat. She was sexy and cute in her fluorescent green-yellow outfit.
Mr. Rundgren, on the other hand, was all wrong for this job of supplanting Mr. Ocasek. His vocals lack the Ocasek flair, and it was worse when you heard him try to muster a trembling timbre to sound like his predecessor during "Shake It Up," "Let's Go" and "You Might Think." Plus, his solo hits, such as "I Saw the Light," sounded so out of place in what was supposed to be a repertoire of Cars tunes. However, Mr. Sulton did do a fine job with "Drive," the signature song sung by Mr. Orr. Plus, the band did get the Cars style down pat.