EJL’S Adventures in Retroland: The Cars + Urge Overkill

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From KCRW DJ and Music Librarian Eric J Lawrence:

Working at (and listening to) KCRW on a daily basis keeps me informed of the best of the avalanche of new releases that cross our DJs’ paths.  But sometimes you just want to hear something classic!  Same goes for live shows – it’s certainly exciting to watch a new band find their way towards superstardom, but I like to balance it out with the occasional show from a seasoned veteran.

Last week I had a one-two punch of concerts from a couple of bands I hadn’t expected to reunite.  Last Thursday, new wave legends The Cars played the Hollywood Palladium.

Leader Ric Ocasek had previously vowed never to reunite the band (a version of the group, with Todd Rundgren replacing Ric, toured briefly five years ago).  But somehow he was convinced — not only to tour but to record a new album with the three other surviving original members.

That record, “Move Like This”, came out this past week and sounds pretty good, with a couple of songs (“Blue Tip,” “Sad Song”) perfectly capturing the classic Cars synth-driven power-pop groove of yesteryear.  And while those new songs were certainly showcased at the Palladium gig, it was the hits of 30 years prior that the crowd was excited to hear.

Sadly, the band has some rust to shake off.  The sound was murky and too quiet for the Palladium’s cavernous ballroom, the players a bit creaky and seemingly under-rehearsed, Ocasek is an untalkative front man, and the band were clearly missing singer and bassist Benjamin Orr, who died of cancer in 2000.

That said, there were many in the crowd, myself included, who were just happy hear songs like “You Might Think” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” sung in Ocasek’s unmistakable geeky croon, which is one of the few things about the show that hadn’t aged a bit.  I knew the band to have been a somewhat unreliable live band, even in their heyday, so my expectations weren’t all that high.  Ultimately, I pretty much got just what I needed.

Chicago’s Urge Overkill also have an unexpected new album, their first in 16 years.  To celebrate, they performed at the Troubadour last Friday, and it was great to see them.  I caught their show back in 1993 at the height of their powers, touring under their “Saturation” album, a personal favorite of mine (and one that helped me through a breakup with my college girlfriend).  And lo and behold, they’ve still got it!

Although I’ve only heard the single from the new album, it bodes well for the whole record.  Songwriters Nash Kato and King Roeser have a particular knack for creating riff-ready tunes that stick in the head and get fists pumping.  Blending punk rock energy with classic rock grooves, they tore it up with classics like “(Now That’s) The Barclords,” “Erica Kane” (paying tribute to the soap opera character played by Susan Lucci) and “Vacation in Tokyo.”  I’m eager to hear the rest of the new stuff!


Urge Overkill “ (Now That’s) The Barclords” live at the Troubadour