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The Cars - The Cars Live - Musikladen 1979
Release Date: October 24, 2000
Label: Rhino Home Video

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

One of the most successful bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s, The Cars were not known for their live performances. They were criticized by many as being "cold" and "impersonal" onstage as they didn't banter with the audience nor did they put on extravagant stage shows. This is well-documented on the 2000 DVD, The Cars Live - Musikladen 1979, which finds the band performing for a German audience during the recording of a music showcase. Remaining true-to-form, aside from the introduction of a few of the songs, the band says little and the smiles are kept to a minimum.

On the DVD, the band performs 11 songs, including 10 tracks selected from their first two albums, The Cars and Candy-O. One song, "Take What You Want", was never recorded in the studio, so its inclusion is a nice treat.

Frontman and rhythm guitarist Ric Ocasek chews gum throughout the entire show and seems disconnected from the audience, but his vocals are well-done and his guitar playing is spot-on. Bassist Benjamin Orr, who shares some of the vocal duties, is a little more interactive with both the audience as well as lead guitarist Elliot Easton. Easton is, by far, the most energetic on-stage - twisting and contorting his face and body as he breaks off solos. Drummer David Robinson plays well but has exactly the same look on his face for the entire show. (He says in an interview that's also included on the DVD that he was sick at the time and doesn't remember the performance at all.) The most interesting individual performance is given by keyboardist Greg Hawkes, however. Hawkes not only plays the keyboards but also handles a myriad of percussion instruments during "I'm in Touch With Your World" and dons a guitar for "Take What You Want." Hawkes looks hopelessly nerdy throughout the show but his versatility is impressive.

For casual fans, the early big hits are present and accounted for: "Just What I Needed", "You're All I've Got Tonight", "My Best Friend's Girl", "Bye Bye Love", and "Good Times Roll." For the hardcore, "Nightspots", "Candy-O", "Since I Held You" and "Don't Cha Stop" are also included, along with the aforementioned songs. The show leans heavily on the first album as it was just released in Europe at the time the show was recorded.

The Cars Live is unfortunately marred by poor video quality and it appears that the band's equipment was causing some interference with the cameras during many songs. A series of faint bars appears on-screen - frequently in time with the music - so I am assuming there's some connection to either the instruments or the lights. The sound was recorded in mono although the DVD was remixed in Dolby 5.1 audio. Aside from the disco-era electronic drums used to introduce "Good Times Roll" and Greg Hawkes' woodgrained, vintage keyboards, the music has aged pretty well. It certainly wouldn't be mistaken for any of the current crop of bands that owe a huge debt to The Cars' power-pop style, but the songs are not cringe-inducing at all. Overall, however, everything looks and sounds pretty good for a recording that's 30 years old and wasn't necessarily intended as an archival record of the band.

One of the highlights of the DVD is a 45 minute interview that was recorded in 2000. It features all five members of the band talking about their early career as well as the performance that is included on the DVD. According to the liner notes, it was the first interview the band had given in over a decade. (The band had broken up twelve years before this DVD was released.) It is obvious as one watches the group discuss their lack of European tours and love of technology that Benjamin Orr is ill. He was suffering from pancreatic cancer at the time of the interview and died several months after it was recorded. His condition adds an air of sadness to the interview as it appears that the band knows that this is the last time they'll be together to comment on their career and acheivements. The interview never gets morose but the discussions do have a finality to them.

If you're even a casual fan of The Cars and you haven't checked out The Cars Live - Musikladen 1979, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy. If you're only vaguely aware of the band, I'd also recommend checking out the DVD as a music history lesson. It's one of the few live recordings of this American New Wave band doing their thing and doing it well.

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