I’m shaking my head over negative reviews written by those who described Blondie’s performance in glowing terms, but who obviously didn’t give The New Cars a chance. Those critics must have left early, in hopes of getting Deborah Harry’s autograph outside the stage door (…dreaming is free…), because their observations don’t describe the concert that I witnessed.
The New Cars’ tight, powerful performance on Saturday, May 13, 2006 was, in one word: AWESOME!!!
I entered Grand Prairie’s Nokia Theatre anticipating a fun evening, filled with enjoyable MTV hits from two bands – which have both survived personnel changes – that I hadn’t bothered to catch in live performance when we were all twenty or so years younger. Most of the people whom I could see from my front row center seat – a blend of fans of Blondie, The Cars, and/or Todd Rundgren – apparently arrived in a similar mindset because the audience didn’t wait until the final song to let the “good times roll”.
Blondie definitely deserved the kudos, but then so did The New Cars.
Chris Stein’s guitar work and Clem Burke’s drumming were particularly impressive. They lived up to their well-deserved reputations. Deborah Harry’s voice was every bit as strong and beautiful now as when she originally recorded those songs. Years melted away as she sang, flirtatiously danced, and blew kisses to her adoring, appreciative fans. The other members are fine musicians, too, but with several of Ms. Harry’s fans seated next to me interacting with her, it was not easy to focus attention elsewhere. My favorites from their Grand Prairie set were “Atomic”, their rendition of Roxy Music’s “More Than This”, and “The Tide Is High”. Nokia security, for the most part, managed to keep cameras packed and fans away from the stage and out of the aisles until Blondie’s encore, “Heart Of Glass”.
Intermission passed quite pleasantly, due to meeting new people and chatting with long-time friends and acquaintances.
When the curtains parted, our senses were inundated by the fast-paced visuals, which changed to complement each song, flashing across the wheel-like screens of The New Cars’ incredible stage set, and lighting, which – at times – was blinding. Elliot Easton, Prairie Prince, Todd Rundgren, Greg Hawkes, and Kasim Sulton collectively sang “Hello Again” in greeting to everyone within the theatre, who promptly rose to welcome them. Most remained standing, dancing, and singing along throughout the entire set. During “My Best Friend’s Girl”, the audience quickly followed Elliot’s lead and clapped along in unison.
When “I Saw The Light” began, a couple of women began tentatively dancing in front of the first row. Others quickly joined them at the stage as soon as it was obvious that security wasn’t bothering to remove them. By the time Elliot added his sweet guitar flourishes to the song, it was obvious that the security team had finally resigned themselves to the fact that fans and photos were not going to be denied.
“Moving In Stereo” provided one of the night’s highlights, as right-handed Todd’s red Italia faced off against lefty Elliot’s steel-blue signature Gibson in a searing hot axe duel, with both guitars wailing simultaneously. Kasim’s scorching Archer Sulton-signature bass lines and Prairie’s powerful, unfaltering drumming provided the thunderous rhythm, which literally rocked the house. With Easton’s switch to a lime green guitar, the guys continued their energetic onslaught, with an infectious enthusiasm. All were obviously having a blast.
In the lobby before the show, I’d overheard someone ask the all-too familiar question “Todd who?” At the end of Rundgren’s smoking, intense guitar solo (with “Foamy”) during “Black Maria”, that person voiced their own answer: “Wow! This guy rocks!” The same can be said for all members of this quintet, who have impressed me with their talent.
Unfortunately, there were a few technical problems due to a much later than planned arrival – 2:00 PM instead of 9:00 AM – that presumably didn’t allow sufficient time for a full sound check. As a result, the sound mix was off and too loud for my tastes, with – sadly – Hawkes’ keyboards (and sax on “All Mixed Up”) at too low a level. Hopefully, later shows will find this remedied.
This was the thirtieth time since 1975 that I’ve seen Todd Rundgren in concert, and this was as fine a rock ‘n’ roll performance from him as any I’ve seen, despite the fact that I usually prefer listening to his compositions. Don’t believe for a second that TR is attempting to emulate Ric Ocasek, whom I’ve come to appreciate as an interesting songwriter and decent performer in his own right. Despite the fact that Todd’s vocals got a wee bit of a jump-start at the beginning of “You Might Think” (when he switched to his black Babicz Spider), what I saw was pure, nearly perfect (but still human) Rundgren singing lead in an obviously well rehearsed performance.
The band rarely paused, except during the introduction of Rundgren’s own songs taken out of “the time capsule”, when Easton thanked the crowd, or when TR introduced his band mates: the “original members” and the “new originals”, all seasoned pros. The tempo slowed only long enough for Sulton’s fine, faithful version of the lovely, yet moody “Drive”.
Another highlight for me, despite a few initial groans, was when the guys joined each other at stage center and launched into a Tiki-style version of “Bang The Drum All Day”. Greg Hawkes proved his prowess with his ukulele, while Prairie drummed on a djembe, and Kasim played tambourine. As soon as the rhythm section returned to their usual positions, they began an electrified (and electrifying) version of the same song, with Easton strapping on a white guitar. Rundgren was back on his Italia. Images of hand drums and tiki idols flashed across the circular screens, adding to the fun.
By the time The New Cars reappeared on stage for a standing ovation and their encore, the front of the theatre was packed with happy fans. For The New Cars’ fantastic version of the Nazz classic “Open My Eyes”, Todd brought out a guitar – with “Xen” painted on the headstock – beautifully customized to look like the cover art from the first TR’s Utopia album. After the final notes of “Good Times Roll” played, the members of The New Cars took a bow, shook hands with a few fans, then waved farewell.
I’m so glad that I didn’t choose to skip this tour and am keeping my fingers crossed that The New Cars’ map will lead them to South Texas during another leg of the ROAD RAGE tour. It was fun and I want more! By the way, while writing this, I'm enjoying listening to my copy of their new CD It's Alive! (US public release date 06/06/06), which is already being sold at the Merchandise Booth before and after ROAD RAGE 2006 TOUR shows. The trio of new studio recordings obviously reflects Todd’s influence and shows great promise of more to come from The New Cars.
Nothing will satisfy those “screamers” who insist on living in the past, who can’t accept that Todd is fronting this group of excellent professional musicians rather than Ric, who can’t forgive Todd for this not being his own tour with his own music (Hold the cover tunes, please!), and/or who can’t tolerate or comprehend the fact that others may actually be enjoying this side trip on the “road to Utopia”. They might as well stay home and listen to their CDs, because it’s doubtful that they will allow themselves or anyone sitting near them the chance to appreciate any aspect of this, no matter how entertaining the evening might be.
Those of you who are capable of accepting this for what it is – an awesome, fun, rocking show – should plan to catch at least one performance during this tour because you are DEFINITELY in for a treat!!!
SET LISTS –
BLONDIE: THE NEW CARS:
Call Me Hello Again
Dreaming Let’s Go
Hanging On The Telephone Shake It Up
Accidents Never Happen My Best Friend’s Girl
Pretty Baby I Saw The Light
More Than This Dangerous Type
Good Boys Moving In Stereo
(song unrecognized) All Mixed Up
The Tide Is High Black Maria
Picture This You Might Think
Rifle Range Drive
In The Flesh Bang The Drum
Rapture You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
One Way (Or Another) Bye Bye Love
ENCORE – Not Tonight
Heart Of Glass ENCORE –
*** Just What I Needed
INTERMISSION Open My Eyes
*** Good Times Roll