Review by Michael Harkins (Switch to

Well Folks. Karen (my wife) and I drove back late last night (to Tucson) from Phoenix… so I am writing this review a day and a half after attending Wednesday night's electrifying New Cars show at Dodge Theatre in Phoenix, AZ. Let me preface my comments by stating that I have been a Cars fan since their self-titled debut album was released (28 years ago) back in 1978. I have always likely the quirky, highly stylistic music of The Cars and never saw the original “Cars” line-up perform live in concert. However, after experiencing the dynamic chemistry, sizzling performances and flawless execution that was put forth by Todd, Kasim, Prairie, Elliot Easton & Greg, I was (surprisingly) blown away at Wednesday night's show.

The Crowd

A few days before the concert, (out of curiosity) I went to the ticketmaster website and checked ticket availability in each main seating level in order to gauge how well tickets for this show had sold. I was sad to learn that while many of the main floor tickets were gone, virtually all of the club level and balcony seats remained unsold. At the show, I scanned the audience (on each level) to determine to size of the crowd. I would estimate the total attendance for Wednesday night's concert at somewhere between 2,000 to 2,300 people (out of a total venue capacity of 5,000 seats).


With Blondie slated as the co-headliner for this tour (and not just serving as an opening act), Debbie Harry and crew ambled through a fairly lifeless 15-song (1 hour and 15 minute) set that really seemed to drag on and on. After seeing them perform live on Wednesday night, I am even more perplexed as to why this marginal new wave group was (ever considered let alone) inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (earlier this year). In all fairness, they did a nice job with their rendition of the Roxy Music classic, “More Than This”, “Maria” was another rare set highlight and “Heart of Glass” was a fun encore (well maybe my enthusiasm for this song could be directly attributed to my relief that Blondie's set was finally winding to a close). IMO, a 30-40 minute (7 or 8 song) opening set would have been more than enough (and left room for a few more TR/Utopia numbers) during The New Cars set to follow.

Blondie's Set List:

Call Me
Hangin' on the Telephone
Accidents Never Happen
Pretty Baby
More Than This
Good Boys
The Tide is High
Picture This
In The Flesh
One Way Or Another

Encore: Heart of Glass

The Stage Set

As many of you know (by now), Prairie Prince, along with (former Tubes band-mate) Michael Cotton, created the unique stage set for this tour. Picture six round screens (each looking like a massive drumhead - 15 feet in diameter stretched over a giant round metal rim/frame) in two clusters of three (3) screens on the right and left sides of the stage (positioned above and behind the band). Throughout the New Cars set, microprocessor-controlled images were projected onto the screens as perfectly synchronized sequences/themes in tastefully executed patterns. The circular design was further carried forward with a computer-controlled light cluster (artfully) positioned directly (in the middle of the set) equidistant between the two screen clusters and mounted into a circular metal frame (with comparable dimensions to the screen frames). The Drums and Keyboards also were positioned within circular metal frame surrounds. There were other computer controlled par, gobo and specialty lights configured in various (well designed) arrays to effectively execute a wide spectrum of lighting scenes for each song.

The Band

Todd Rundgren was in great voice all night and he really seemed to be having fun leading this exceptional band. His guitar playing was also really strong throughout the entire set. Todd's approach towards the Cars material respectfully (and authentically) reflected the essence of each Cars original while still very much staying true to his own voice and interpretation. I don't see how any other vocalist could have done a better job with the task of fronting this distinctive band.

Elliot Easton demonstrated his fluid guitar chops throughout their set. He is the consummate professional who is meticulously executes each creatively arranged guitar part and imaginative solo with effortless precision. When EE trades off guitar solos with TR, their contrasting styles create pure magic. With Elliot Easton, there simply isn't a guitar note or vocal harmony out of place all evening. In listening to the classic Cars hits over the course of evening, it is easy to hear how much EE's tasteful arrangements and solos were part of the integral core that produced the distinctive Cars sound.

Greg Hawkes is quirky, “diminutive” and talented. GH's inimitable keyboard arrangements provide so much of the trademark Cars sound by coloring, counter-balancing and enhancing each classic Cars tune. His unique presence on stage was at times pixie-like and other times etheric. His keyboard arrangements and solos were the perfect compliment to EE's guitar work. His sax solo was a bit off on Wednesday night (perhaps is was as a result of his monitor mix?) All in all, Hawkes, is an essential Cars musical ingredient. They wouldn't be the same without him.

Kasim Sulton anchored the rhythm section throughout the New Cars set with his impeccable, professional bass playing and beautiful vocals. Kasim has the rare ability to make everyone around him sound better. This must be attributable to his exceptional ear, vesatility, unquestionable talent and vast musical experience (be it as a vital member of Utopia, Meat Loaf's music director, touring sideman extraordinaire or solo artist). Kasim was clearly up to the challenge of handling the lead vocals for (the late) Benjamin Orr's gorgeous Cars smash hit “Drive”. I heard several people commenting how great his voice sounded after that number. It was one (undeniably) one of the evening's highlights. His long-standing musical connection with Todd (and even Prairie) was obvious throughout the set. Kas (like a fine wine) just keeps getting better with age.

Prairie Prince one again demonstrated his brilliant drumming skills and versatility as a preeminent timekeeper. This amazing drummer provides a stable drive and new level of excitement to the Cars rhythm section. His commanding stage presense was only matched by his extraordinary stage set design (which is a masterpiece of artistic ingenuity). Prairie clearly has a tremendous musical rapport with Todd and Kasim, which made his drumming all the more special on Wednesday night.

TR Song Selections

Don't get me wrong… I love “Black Maria”, “Open My Eyes” and “I Saw The Light” (to me, “Bang The Drum” is simply one of Todd's throwaway novelty songs). I enjoyed each TR original. Todd's vocoals and guitarwork was excellent. However, there are a number of other great TR & Utopia songs that would have meshed far more seamlessly with the Cars material and (as a result) resonated in a far less disjointed manner with Cars fans who are unfamiliar with TR's music. “Love is the Answer”, “Trapped”, “The Very Last Time”, “Hideaway”, “Lysistrada”, “I'm Looking At You But I'm Talking To Myself”, “If I Didn't Try”, “Secret Society”, “The Waiting Game”, “Change Myself”, “Property”, “Espresso (All Jacked Up)” or “Stood Up” all would have been better choices for this tour. Any combination of these songs would effectively compliment the Cars material and attract new fans to his music.

The New Cars Set List:

Hello Again
Let's Go
Shake It Up
Best Friend's Girl
I Saw the Light
Dangerous Type
Moving in Stereo
All Mixed Up
Black Maria
You Might Think
Bang The Drum (Uke) 
You're All I've Got 
Bye Bye Love
Not Tonight

Encore: Just What I Needed Open My Eyes Let the Good Times Roll

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5/17/2006 - Dodge Theatre - Phoenix, AZ

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