About half way through their Heartbeat City tour, The Cars stopped in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and played at the CNE Grandstand (formally known as the Canadian National Exhibit Stadium). Though the band wasn’t in town for long, a couple of cool things took place at that August 8, 1984, show.
Before I get to those unique happenings, let me get a little bit of business out of the way. I don’t have a ton of background on the concert itself, simply because I just haven’t had time to do in-depth research, but I do believe that this was the second time the band performed at the CNE, having stopped there during the Panorama tour. They weren’t strangers to Toronto, though; they also played at the El Mocambo for the debut album, and at the Maple Leaf Gardens in support of Candy-O. And I know that the Canadian press wasn’t super impressed with this particular show, but then, they never really seemed to be in The Cars’ corner over the years (with the exception of writer Peter Goddard).
Wang Chung was the opening band, and then our band took the stage. I’m not positive that this is the actual set list played that night, but here is what The Cars worked through on August 6 and August 10 (both the same), so it’s gotta be close.
It’s Not the Night
Touch and Go
Looking for Love
Gimme Some Slack
Jimmy Jimmy (Ric Ocasek song)
Just What I Needed
A Dream Away
You Might Think
My Best Friend’s Girl
Encore: Heartbeat City
Encore: You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
And while though those two paragraphs above are a bit light on details, I DO have an excellent eyewitness account of the concert to share. Fellow Cars fan Doug Parsons was just 16 years old when he stumbled into the chance to see The Cars live. Rather than try to retell his experience in my own words, I’ll let you read his take on how The Cars rocked his world:
I was born and raised in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The Cars never played in Atlantic Canada when they toured, which was very frustrating to me, as they were my favourite band. It was only through a rather strange sequence of events that I got to see them in Toronto in the summer of 1984.
Earlier that year, I made a new friend and I spent a lot of time with him that spring. We really were an “odd couple” … we basically had nothing in common except that our older brothers knew each other. He lived with his father in Dartmouth, but his mother lived in Toronto. Sometime in June, he mentioned to me that he was going to visit his mother in the summer for three weeks and asked if I would like to go along. Having never been to Toronto, I was obviously excited to go. I didn’t expect that my parents would let me go, but they did, so I ended up going with him.
He had a girlfriend there, and I REALLY liked his girlfriend’s best friend (sounds almost like a Cars song, doesn’t it?). So one night we were over at his girlfriend’s house, and while I was unsuccessfully trying to chat up her friend, I heard over the radio that was on in the room that The Cars were going to be playing at the CNE Grandstand … and it was WHILE we were in Toronto! Needless to say, I immediately starting bugging my friend to go to the concert with me, which he unenthusiastically agreed to do.
So fast forward to the night of the concert. We got on the bus to the CNE, and after about 20 minutes my friend says, “I think we are going the wrong way.” So he asked the bus driver, and indeed we were going the wrong way. Fortunately, we made it to the CNE while Wang Chung were still on stage. I heard them play “Dance Hall Days” and they sounded great, but I was really only interested in seeing The Cars perform.
So, after what seemed like a LONG intermission … the lights went down, and the crowd started to roar … and then I heard “Hello…hello again!” And I was up on my feet and I didn’t sit down until the lights went back up. I had seen a few concerts in Dartmouth, but nothing of this magnitude. The stage layout was so futuristic with all of the TV screens playing exotic-looking videos. And song after song that I had played on my record player so many times … “Let’s Go” … “Cruiser” … “Just What I Needed” … and on and on. But the two songs that REALLY blew me away were “Good Times Roll” and “It’s Not the Night.” I was not expecting “Good Times Roll” to have such a cranked-up guitar sound, and as much as I liked the album version, I LOVED the live rendition. “It’s Not the Night” was just plain amazing, with all of the layered synthesizers and Ben’s incredible vocals. It really gave me chills.
This was my first outdoor concert, and the beautiful weather and the excellent acoustics of the CNE made it a truly sublime experience. To this day, it remains my all-time favourite concert.
And my friend? TOTALLY indifferent. Sat for the entire concert and said afterward that he found it boring. Like I said, we really were an odd couple. After we got home, we basically stopped talking to each other, which was probably for the best, as he started to associate with some rather unsavoury characters.
And my best friend’s girlfriend’s friend? Turned out that she liked my best friend’s little brother. Just like in a Cars song.
Oh man, I can just feel his heart start to race when he heard those opening lyrics, can’t you? I love that he shared his memories with us! And from his account we can determine that the set list that night did vary a bit. Good to know!
Okay… so the first cool thing. According to one review (from The Toronto Star, August 9, 1984, pictured below), there were only about 8,000 people in attendance. Interestingly, one of those people was none other than the actor, Rob Lowe!
Now, you all know who Rob Lowe is, right? Having made his acting debut at the age of fifteen in a short-lived sitcom in 1979, Rob burst into the 80s movie scene in the coming-of-age classic, The Outsiders. From there it was silver-screen sailing, as he starred in one Brat Pack classic after another, establishing himself as a teen idol and relentless heartthrob. A sex tape scandal in 1988 knocked his reputation for a loop for a bit, but he continued to work steadily, and in the 2000s, he reclaimed his status as an acting force to be reckoned with (and still just as handsome as ever!) on the set of The West Wing and beyond.
Well, rumor has it that Rob was a big fan of The Cars during his high school days. He’s alluded to it himself on Twitter, and actress Melissa Gilbert (among others) has reminisced about driving around and listening to The Cars with Rob. Coincidentally, The Cars used a little snippet of Rob’s appearance on Andy Warhol’s TV in their mini-documentary about the making of the video for “Hello Again.” Check it here at 1:50. Anyway, in 1984 Rob was in Toronto filming Youngblood with co-stars Patrick Swayze and Cynthia Gibb. On the night of the Cars’s show at the CNE Grandstand, photographers spotted him in the crowd enjoying himself. Awesome! I wonder if he got to visit backstage and meet the band?
From The Toronto Star, 1984
From The Toronto Star, 1984
Oh, and if you needed to see that photo of Ben from the article a little clearer… here it is. It’s very similar to the one by Philip Kamin in the Peter Goddard book; the one that Kurt Gaber uses for the memorial shirts. What a stunner!
Now the second cool thing.
While The Cars were in the Toronto area, they were presented with an award for selling over 200,000 units of Heartbeat City — also known as ‘going double platinum’. A little blurb about it was printed in RPM Weekly on September 22, 1984, with a bit of a grainy photo. Luckily Louise Potts posted a clearer version of the picture on Facebook.
Isn’t that great? I love when these little puzzle pieces fit together, and what a treat to get a glimpse of the other commitments that filled the band’s time while they were on the road. The obsession continues!
(Oh, and here’s an extra little factoid: Greg’s double platinum award sold at auction in March of 2019 for $400. Wowza!)
When asked to name his favorite Cars album: “The first one is great for me. Panorama I like a whole lot, maybe just because we got a lot of crap for making it. So those two, and Heartbeat City. Candy-O wasn’t bad either.” — from “Benjamin Orr: The Cars’ Mr. Casual Steps Out” by Rob Tannenbaum, Musician Magazine, March 1987
“Our personal relationship had its ups and downs, as Ben was a very complex person and could be moody. Plus, I was only in my twenties, but fortunately we did remain friends through it all. Ben was somewhat intense and seemed introverted, but he was really just taking time to get to know you, then he would open up a little more. He was quite a character once I got to know him, and he always had something fun or creative going on. The man never sat still!” — David Frangioni, recording engineer and producer, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken, p. 159