Debbie Harry’s voice was a bit cold as the band opened with ‘Call Me’ – understandable considering the weather – but she quickly warmed up and her voice sounded better throughout the night than on the downloadable CD that came with concert tickets that must have been recorded during last year’s tour. Dressed in sequined dress, white-striped black workout pants, green shirt and scarf and cropped black jacket, she soon had much of the arriving audience up on their feet dancing to all the old 80’s hits as well as a few more obscure songs from the back catalog and cover versions of Roxy Music’s ‘More Than This’ and the Rolling Stones ‘Paint It Black’.
From the number of empty seats it was obvious that more people had bought tickets for the New Cars than for Blondie, but the crowd still responded enthusiastically to the set.
After a break to change the stage set-up, the New Cars hit the stage with new frontman Todd Rundgren, wearing a gold jacket and his now-traditional “skunk” hairdo, launching into the hits ‘Hello Again’, ‘Let’s Go’ and ‘Shake It Up’ to a cheering and enthusiastic crowd.
The stage design, by drummer Prairie Prince, featured 6 round projection screens overhead which showed various slide shows or gobo-ed colors as well as a center ring of lights and 3 chrome-ringed stage risers for amps, drums and keyboards.
A few of Rundgren’s personal hits were mixed into the set list of old Cars standards, and except for the widely-known ‘I Saw The Light’ were greeted by unknowing looks and comments by a large percentage of the audience. You could tell the Todd fans during ‘Black Maria’ – the ones dancing at their seats and enjoying the best lead guitar playing they have heard from Rundgren in many years as he wailed on his favorite ‘Foamy’ guitar.
Some of the highlights of the 1-3/4 hour set included Rundgren and original Cars guitarist Elliot Easton’s dueling leads on ‘I Saw the Light’ and ‘She’s A Lot Like You’ as well as bassist Kasim Sulton’s (substituting for the deceased Ben Orr, but not trying to replace or immitate him) melodic voice on ‘Drive’ and ‘All Mixed Up’, which also featured Cars original keyboardist Greg Hawkes on saxophone.
The final song of the set was the newly-penned ‘Not Tonight’ followed by a triple encore of ‘Just What I Needed’, the Nazz’s ‘Open My Eyes’ and ‘Let the Good Times Roll’.
Musically, both bands were tight and crisp but the sound suffered from a venue-specific problem. The Pavilion’s sound system has always been inadequate for the size of this open-air facility. For this show, the sound was typically distorted – the system pushed too hard to be too loud. The mix for the New Cars was often poor – guitars or voices buried and the bass guitar and bass drum were missing from the mix entirely most of the time.
Overall, a great show, compromised by a poor venue. If you get the chance to see these two bands some place other than a casino or outdoor event, go for it!
Set lists: (with apologies for wrong titles!)
Call Me Dreaming Hanging On the Telephone Atomic ? More Than This Dubois (?) Maria The Tide Is High Picture This Rifle Range In the Flesh Rapture One Way or Another Encores: Paint It Black Heart of GlassNew Cars
Hello Again Let’s Go Shake It Up My Best Friend’s Girlfriend Candy-O I Saw The Light She’s A Lot Like You Moving In Stereo All Mixed Up Black Maria You Might Think Drive Bang The Drum You’re All I Got Tonight Bye Bye Love Not Tonight Encores: Just What I Needed Open My Eyes Let the Good Times Roll
Side note: wear a “Todd” shirt to any concert featuring Todd and you will meet up with other Todd fans! Talked to a number of people, including a guy next to me who had been to many of the same shows as me, and another guy in front of me who leaned back during Black Maria and said – ‘the best guitar work I’ve heard from Todd in 6 years!’