When old bands play new tunes
Todd Rundgren steps in for Ric Ocasek
With some kind of Killer(s) neo-new wave tide now undeniably lapping at the shores of mainstream pop and its underground analogue, the return of the Cars — one of Boston’s best-known new-wave breakouts — is a no brainer. Problem is, Ben Orr, the dreamy bassist who sang some of the big hits, died in 2000. And according to what guitarist Elliot Easton had to say a week ago Tuesday, when a revamped band calling themselves the New Cars road tested some material in front of a Mix 98.5 capacity crowd of about 40 at the First Act guitar studio on Boylston Street, Ocasek doesn’t like touring. This last must be a recent development, since Ocasek assembled a bunch of alt-rockers including Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Mar, as well as genuine Cars keyboard man Greg Hawkes, to tour in support of Ocasek’s solo album Troublizing in the season of 1997-’98. But let’s not nitpick.
Easton and Hawkes found a suitable replacement in yet another tall, odd looking studio nerd with a killer resume and bad hair: Todd Rundgren. The addition of bassist Kassim Sulton, a vet of Rundgren’s Utopia, and ex-Tubes drummer Prairie Prince, lent the project a promising air of legitimacy. No, this isn’t your dad’s old Cars. But at least it’s got potential as a pleasantly retro summer joyride. After all, the Cars songbook is ripe for the picking: it’s a rare band with a debut album that boasts more hits than The Cars .
And therein lies the rub: Rundgren’s Cars have written and recorded a new batch of tunes for the New Cars. They know that it’s the old Ocasek classics that are going to provide the money shots. But there’s a new New Cars album due in June, and if the First Act set was any indication, they mean to play those tunes live.
It all started innocently enough, with the semi-unplugged band aiming straight for nostalgia street with “My Best Friend’s Girl.” No one needed prompting to clap along to the intro. Why Hawkes was holding a mandolin when a perfectly serviceable synth was right there in front of him is anyone’s guess, but it was all good clean fun. After a quick salvo of awkward questions from a radio DJ who didn’t seem fully aware that Rundgren wasn’t in the original band, came the first shocker: a new tune. The crowd had that look of polite regret one imagines you find mainly among theater-goers who have been informed minutes before curtain that the understudy will be playing the role of the celebrity lead. Things pepped up for a harmony heavy “You May Think” and the ballad “Drive” (originally sung by Orr, now sung by bassist Sulton) with full synth layering from Hawkes. But our brief intro to the New Cars ended with another new tune — an odd end to an odd evening.
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: New England Music News
, Todd Rundgren, Ric Ocasek, Elliot Easton, More