The New Cars; Blondie

Review by RICH NIECIECKI (Switch to

The New Cars; Blondie

(Gibson Amphitheater; 6,089 seats; $78.50 top)

Presented by VH1 Classic. Bands: (TNC) Todd Rundgren, Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes, Kasim Sulton, Prairie Prince; (B) Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Jimmy Destri, Paul Carbonara, Leigh Foxx, Kevin Patrick. Reviewed May 20, 2006.

By RICH NIECIECKI, Daily Variety, Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Fans of '80s music, a decade largely marked by one-hit wonders and video-driven singles, are most assuredly an accepting and forgiving bunch these days. As long as a given band can reasonably recreate said hits live 20 years on, who's to quibble about its lineup? No more so was this exemplified than by the pairing of the New Cars (the chameleonic Todd Rundgren standing in for the group's primary force, Ric Ocasek, among other member changes) with recent Hall of Fame inductee Blondie, who's had its own roster issues over the years. Both pulled off the perf's task at hand reasonably well, but it seemed hardly more than one last walk down memory lane.

Blondie has even admitted as much, having declared that this is its final go 'round as a band. It's hard to tell if singer Deborah Harry, age 60, has reached the same point as, say, Grace Slick, who years ago said she'd feel ridiculous if she were still onstage singing her old songs. The peculiar, sequined soccer-mom track-suit look Harry chose didn't help her cause much as the band opened with "Call Me."

As the set wore on and the hits kept coming, however, she became more animated, hitting her stride vocally on "Picture This'' and "Hanging on the Telephone'' --- both of which, fittingly enough, inspired fans down front to capture her image on their own camera cellphones. A cover of Roxy Music's "More Than This'' was an odd choice, but the group, led by co-founder/guitarist Chris Stein, was always solid, and took it up a notch on closers "In The Flesh,'' "Rapture'' and "One Way or Another.''

As for the New Cars, Ocasek, disinterested in touring with the group, reportedly suggested Rundgren as his own replacement, and Rundgren is certainly well-versed in quirky, new wave pop-rock, having produced records for XTC, Cheap Trick, the Tubes and his own outfit Utopia in the 1980s. But it seems rather unfortunate that he has to subvert the range of his own blue-eyed soulful voice into the constraints of Ocasek's (as well as that of the Cars' other singer/bassist, the late Benjamin Orr) clipped, monochromatic delivery.

It's also curious and again unfortunate that, for such an experienced and talented solo artist, Rundgren has had to join forces with others on the road to make his musical career financially viable (he most recently teamed with Joe Jackson and a string quartet, and previous outings included touring with Ringo and his All Starrs as well as the classic-rock celeb-filled Walk Down Abbey Road tribute).

So it was little surprise then that the setlist, while filled with plenty of classic Cars material, became a bit schizophrenic with Rundgren's repertoire thrown into the mix. The sandwiching of his mindless "Bang the Drum All Day'' --- which doesn't become any more interesting whether it's done unplugged or electric, or both, in this case --- between the tender ballad "Drive'' and the extended heavy outro jam on "You're All I've Got Tonight'' was nearly whiplash-inducing.

Given the presence of a small contingent of his own fans (the split between Blondie and Cars faithful was pretty even, as the house stayed mostly filled throughout the show), the inclusion of deep Rundgren tracks like "Black Maria'' and the Nazz's "Open My Eyes'' was welcomed by some ... but probably puzzling to most.

From a pure musical performance standpoint, two figures stood out on the bill: the eminently watchable Blondie drummer Clem Burke, who made even the largely metronomic dance beat of "Heart of Glass'' a study in physicality and showmanship; and the New Cars' lead guitarist Elliot Easton, who consistently nailed his own brilliantly constructed southpaw leads and fills as originally recorded, ranging from the Telecaster country twang of "My Best Friend's Girl'' to the metal moments of such songs as "Candy O'' and "Dangerous Type,'' courtesy of his prominently used Gibson SG.

A new song, "Not Tonight'' --- sounding quite in the vein of ``Heartbeat City'' era, just before the fall (the Cars disbanded in 1988) --- was offered as a look to the future, but no one should really expect to see a full-scale New Cars rollout next year, if the aud's lone apathetic reaction on the night was any indication.

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5/20/2006 - Gibson Amphitheatre - Universal City, CA

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