Screen Reviews

The Cars

Live

Rhino Home Video

Some groups are best heard and not seen, and Boston’s Cars were one of them. Take it from me. I caught them on a later tour – I believe it was after 1984’s Heartbeat City album – and the experience was akin to watching paint dry. In fact, it was, to this day, one of the few shows I walked out of. While no one expects Springsteen-ish stage presence from these techno-nerds, the band didn’t move an inch as they replicated the studio versions of their hits as faithfully – and sterilely – as possible. They made the staid Grateful Dead or Steely Dan look lively in comparison, although the light show was tops. So I was less than enthused about seeing this DVD of the only full live show ever officially recorded from the band, captured during their lone European tour on June 7, 1979, just after the Candy-O album was released.

Interestingly, although they’re performing on a cramped stage, this early version of the Cars was slightly more animated than some years later, after the hits and money kept flowing in, and the venues – not to mention the crowds – got larger and more demanding. They perform a little less than an hour’s worth of tracks from the first two albums, and although there are few words other than a cursory “Thank you,” muttered to the German audience, the guys at least look like they’re not totally sick of the songs… yet. Neither the low-key stage presence of spidery Ric Ocasek, resplendent in black leather, or the subtle rock star posing of the late Ben Orr make much of an impact on stage as the band churns out the tunes with a minimum of emotion, excitement, or commitment. The camerawork (this was originally recorded for German TV) is at best adequate – not quite primitive, but far from flashy, and the occasional wavering horizontal lines through the picture (the box carries a warning that this is not professional quality video) are only sporadically annoying.

The DVD also features a recent half-hour interview with the band members, the first they have given in almost a decade, as they haltingly reminisce about the good old days. The loosely conceived studio conversation is embarrassingly stiff, and although it’s fascinating to see these guys, now in their 50s, the band seems awkward, if not a little shell-shocked. Watching them attempt to drum up intriguing stories, let alone generate conversational sparks, is sad, indeed. Ultimately, there is little of interest here. Ben Orr; wan, pale, barely talkative, and suffering from the pancreatic cancer which finally felled him a few months later, looks broken, yet proud to be a part of what he must have realized was his final contact with his old cronies.

It’s a fitting recap for a group whose aloofness onstage is reflected in their depressing lack of interaction almost two decades later.


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