Yet another won't-ever-happen rock reunion tour is happening. The Cars shook off acrimony and rust while rolling out vintage and late-model tunes at a sold-out 930 Club on Monday.
The glory days lineup of the Boston-based combo has reformed for the first time since the late-1980s, minus bassist Ben Orr, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2000. The get-together wasn't all about nostalgia: Much of the 90-minute set came from "Move Like This," a CD released earlier this month after a 24-year recording hiatus. And some of the new material fused fabulously with the back-in-the-day offerings. The chorus of the synth-driven "Blue Tip" was as catchy as pop music can get, though the song didn't get the response it deserved from the unfamiliar fans. Another highlight: "Sad Song" from the latest disc sounded like Dylan doing techno.
But retro carried the evening. David Robinson sat behind an electronic kit that, digital audio advances be darned, was set to make unmistakably electronic drum sounds. Guitarist Eliot Easton reprised every note of his awesome rockabilly solo on "My Best Friend's Girl."
The entire ensemble delivered a note-for-note recreation on "Moving in Stereo," remembered by the male half of a generation as the soundtrack to Phoebe Cates' slo-mo pool scene from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."
Even in their heyday the Cars weren’t ever real active in concert: The new record's title, "Move Like This," is said to be a joke about members' onstage inertia. And frontman Ric Ocasek, true to form, never let on that he was having fun on this night. He, for example, didn't bother reprising the ecstatic shouts of "So please me!" and "Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!" that climaxed the recorded version of "Just What I Needed." As good as the songs sounded, Ocasek's detached pose kept everybody's ecstasy in check.
Given that the room had a vibe similar to that of a class reunion, any interaction between the band and fans went a long way. Before "Touch and Go," keyboardist Greg Hawkes, who grew up in Howard County, Md., gave a shout to his "high school buddies" who were in the house, and also to Orr, who wasn't.
Orr’s absence left Hawkes to fill in all the bass parts and Ocasek to assume all lead vocal chores. So Ocasek alone doled out the lyrics about reckless youth from the glorious pop song, "Let's Go," including the line "She won't give up, 'cause she's 17!" That single was released 32 years ago next month, meaning the unnamed "she" is pushing 50 now. If she's held up through the decades as wonderfully as that melody, well, good for her.