Review: The Cars Live at the Agora 1978

Here is the 6th piece I wrote for Joe Milliken and Standing Room Only, and it wraps up the series. Though I am adding this to my blog last, it was actually written and published in October of 2017, in between the release of the expanded editions. This is also the review that was quoted on the big screen at a presentation at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 (photo below).


I’m not going to make you wait until the end of this review to give you my opinion: this album is off the chain!

Now remember, I am not an expert on discerning levels of sound quality, or at picking out nuances in the way music is mixed, but I do know how to enjoy a great show, and there is not a single track on this two-album set that disappoints.

While some critics (and concert goers) have been known to whine and fuss about The Cars not being a ‘dynamic’ live act, no one can deny that when it came to the music, this band could recreate their remarkable studio sound flawlessly from the stage. Because of this, many fans have lamented that The Cars never released a live album during their active years together. Sure, there are a handful of bootleg recordings that make their way around the Fanorama, but not a complete live show remastered and released by the band, itself… until this year, that is!

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Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

On April 22, 2017, Rhino Records put out a limited run of 5,000 copies of one of The Cars’ early live performances as part of the worldwide vinyl movement, Record Store Day.  The Cars Live At The Agora, 1978 documents the energy and the fresh sound of the band at the beginning of their rise to success.

Just to give you some context, The Cars consists of songwriter Ric Ocasek on rhythm guitar, and he trades lead vocals with long-time friend and bandmate Benjamin Orr, the bass player. Elliot Easton handles the lead guitar, while Greg Hawkes works his keyboards and David Robinson keeps everybody locked in with his drums. This five-man lineup started playing together in early 1977, and within 18 months they had a record contract in their pockets and their first album on music store shelves.

With their debut single, “Just What I Needed,” gaining popularity on the airwaves, the band took off on their first major tour, spanning the United States, and including stops in Canada and parts of Europe. The Agora show here, recorded at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland on July 18, 1978, for WMMS radio (about a month into their tour), is a shining example of the band’s ability to interlock their individual roles to create a tight, rollicking performance that keeps the listener bouncing from song to song. No, not a bunch of jumping around and physical gyrations, no long monologues or extended soloing by band members, no pyrotechnics; just an ensemble of creative and classy musicians doing what they do best: rocking the house.

The set list for the night is an interesting blend, giving the enthusiastic audience a taste of where these boys have been and where they are going. Not only are there near-flawless performances of all nine incredible songs from their debut album, but The Cars also burn through some raging rockers from their regular club set (the hard-edged “Take What You Want” and the powerful punk of “Hotel Queenie”) and treat the crowd to “Night Spots,” which will show up on The Cars’ future album, Candy-O. They end the concert with a gritty cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else,” letting Elliot take over the lead vocal on their last song of the night.

Other audio delights pour from the speakers. Listen for Greg’s crazy-cool assortment of eclectic sounds on “I’m In Touch With Your World,” and then catch him later as he pushes the show in a whole new direction with his melodic saxophone (“All Mixed Up” and “Something Else”). Also, I love how you can really hear the power of David’s drums on “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,” and how Elliot kills it on that classic guitar solo in “Just What I Needed.” My favorite tracks feature Benjamin pouring his all into the vocals, like on “Bye Bye Love” and “All Mixed Up;” you can just feel his racing pulse as he belts it out. And woven throughout the entire show are great harmonies, some highlighted backing vocals, and brief audience interactions that draw a smile.

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Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

The cherry on top? Rhino Records really nails it with the packaging of this release. The signature red-and-black color scheme of the early Cars’ years, combined with the terrific photos of each band member and the reproduced hand-written show notes displayed on the backside of the album cover – it’s definitely a stare-worthy addition to the vinyl stack. Inside the cover are tucked two records; three of the sides contain the music, and the fourth displays what would prove to be the first in a series of custom etchings to grace the 2017 releases of Cars albums. Awesome!

The vinyl is hard to get ahold of now, though there are still a few copies available floating around online (mostly from Europe). At this time there are no plans for the show to be released on CD; fortunately Rhino has now made it available digitally through several music channels. Click below to download the album. If you don’t have it already, get a copy – it’s a must-have for every Cars fan!

https://rhino.lnk.to/latasmp?ref=http%3A//thecars.org/


 

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My review, quoted at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during a listening party for this album in the Foster Theater, 2018. Photo courtesy of David Curry.

In other words:

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Courtesy of V. Libow

“If anybody’s going to sing ‘Drive’ it’s going to be Ric. I feel like Ben’s presence will be there, whether or not we do ‘Drive’ and whether or not there’s a video montage of Ben during ‘Drive.'” — Greg Hawkes, Best Classic Bands, published April 12, 2018

 

Episode 45: The Cars Year in Review 2018

EP45“Twenty eighteen… probably the most exciting year we’ve had as fans since Move Like This came out.” ~ Mr. Steel Wool

Another year gone… can you believe it? And this one has been a doozy!  Dave and Donna are joined by dear friends of the show Kurt and Jenny as they revisit all of the amazing happenings in the Fanorama over the last 12 months.

Before they dive in, they quickly recap the latest news in The Cars world: the song “Let’s Go” shows up in the new Transformers movie Bumblebee, a guitar signed by the 2018 RRHOF inductees is up for bid, and Dave reads a sexy letter from Alberto Vargas congratulating Donna on her recently published Atlanta burger article.

From there they start to work through the 2018 calendar. The list of incredible milestones is long and luscious.

  1. The thrill of The Cars’ induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
  2. The next installment of the expanded editions
  3. Chris Morris rocks the Fanorama with his incredible illustrations
  4. Reliving the glory of having Greg Hawkes on the podcast
  5. Ric Ocasek’s recent artistic activities
  6. Turbocharge comes to life… sort of…
  7. New audio files that surfaced from Cap’n Swing, The Grasshoppers, and Richard and the Rabbits
  8. Ben’s biography gets published

… And so much more!

Before they close out they attempt to answer the pressing questions: Anything new for 2019? Is there anything left? What can we expect?

You’re going to want to be sure to stay through to the end. This fun episode wraps up with a new recording of “the business” by vocal talent Elizabeth, followed by a Christmas song by our faithful and talented friend Brett Basil, who gives us his take on what it might have sounded like if The Cars ever did a Christmas song.

Now don’t forget… We want to connect with you! Find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @TheCarsPodcast  (individually we’re @night_spots  and  @sweetpurplejune ), and subscribe to our audio outlets! You can listen by clicking the Youtube link below, or visit us on iTunes or Soundcloud. Wherever you connect, be sure to subscribe, share and comment. Let us know your thoughts — email us at nightthoughtspodcast@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Click below to join us in celebrating The Year of The Cars!

In other words:

Regarding how Benjamin would feel about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction: “He grew up in Parma Heights, Ohio… There was a weekly TV show he was on called Upbeat and The Grasshoppers were the big stars of it. He was a good-looking 16-year-old singing wonderful songs with that great voice. He’s been inundated with music since he was a kid. He was pretty proud to have come from Cleveland.” — Ric Ocasek, Rolling Stone magazine, December 13, 2017

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Ric speaking during The Cars’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, April 14, 2018. Photo credit unknown. 

In other words:

eerrhof.jpg“Benjamin. He would have loved this night, right here, in his hometown of Cleveland, this city that was so proud of him. His beautiful voice, solid bass playing and good humor was such a huge part of the band’s success. Not a bad-looking guy either!” — Elliot Easton, in his acceptance speech during The Cars’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, April 14, 2018

In other words:

ric induction“I just want to start off with a little known fact about The Cars. When we started the band Ben was supposed to be the lead singer and I was supposed to be the good-looking guy in the band. But after the first gig that changed. I got demoted to just the songwriter.

It’s hard not to notice that Benjamin Orr is not here. He would have been elated to be on this stage, receiving this award, in his hometown. It feels quite strange to be up here without him, and we miss and love him dearly.” — Ric Ocasek, in his acceptance speech during The Cars’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, April 14, 2018

Episode 28: Rock Hall Recap, part 2

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In this second installment of our two-part “Cleveland Rocks!” series Dave and Donna are joined by close friends of the show Jenny Durgin and Kurt Gaber. Together the four take a closer look at the particulars of the 33rd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Unfortunately, Dave was unable to be in Cleveland (except in Pocket form), so Donna, Jenny and Kurt give him the rundown on the night, sharing their perspectives from both inside the Cleveland Public Hall and from the Rock Hall’s simulcast event. They touch on elements like:

  1. The Cars were badasses, from beginning to end!
  2. Bon Jovi… Howard Stern… really???
  3. Yes, Ben’s son was there.
  4. Brandon Flowers was PERFECT.
  5. Give it up for the Moodies!
  6. The tragedy that was Dire Straits (to everyone but Kurt).
  7. That long, looooong segment…..
  8. The emotional realities of gas mileage and the Cars-mobile.

The group also takes the time to recount their wonderful Fanorama encounters over the weekend and contemplate the future of The Cars. To wrap it up, Rico Kazzik shares his Rock Hall weekend experience during the Midnight Scroll.

Some apologies for Donna’s blunders: saying that the Panorama photos in the Cars’ slideshow were from Phil Kamin when she meant Paul McAlpine, and not remembering that the Moody Blues’ flute player, Ray Thomas, passed away this year and definitely deserved extra attention.

Want to stay in closer touch with us? Find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (individually we’re @night_spots, @sweetpurplejune @jendurama, and @gabersigns), and subscribe to our audio outlets! You can listen by clicking the Youtube link below, or visit us on iTunes or Soundcloud. Wherever you connect, comment and let us know your thoughts — we’d love to hear from you!

Enjoy!

In other words:

greginduction“And finally, I’d like to give my acknowledgement to Ben Orr. How fitting that we are in Cleveland tonight. Without Ben’s innate talent and rock star good looks, it’s unlikely we would be here tonight.” — Greg Hawkes, in his acceptance speech during The Cars’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, April 14, 2018

Episode 27: Rock Hall Recap Part 1

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In this first of two parts of the “Cleveland Rocks!” series, Donna gushes about her trip to Benjamin’s hometown and all that she experienced there, including promoting the upcoming Benjamin Orr biography, hanging out with beloved friends from the Fanorama, and meeting THE David Robinson.

 

Stay tuned for part two coming the end of April, which will feature a roundtable discussion of the ceremony itself with dear friends of the show Jenny Durgin and Kurt Gaber, while Dave (who is remaining spoiler-free until the May 5th broadcast on HBO) listens in and makes smart-aleck comments.

iTunes.jpgI’ve got the all-important links for you — and we’re adding a new one:

  1. NiGHT THOUGHTS The Cars Podcast is now on iTunes! We are gradually updating it with previous podcasts, but you can jump in with the most current ones now. Subscribe and listen here!
  2. Find us on Facebook! Join the Night Thoughts Podcast group.
  3. Subscribe to our youtube channel and never miss a show. You can take a listen to the older shows, too; start from the beginning and get to know us.
  4. Rico can’t do it all… send us an email! We want to hear your questions, comments, complaints. Contact the pod at nightthoughtspodcast@gmail.com.
  5. Do NOT miss out on our cool Cars merch! Treat yourself to some goodies at Tee Public!
  6. Find us on Twitter for more cool Cars stuff! Follow Dave here and Donna here.

Enjoy!

Episode 20 & The Brawl for The Hall!

ep20-12018 promises to be an exciting year for The Cars and for the Fanorama! Dave and Donna touch on some of the cool things known to be on the horizon (RRHOF, expanded issues), and speculate about other realistic prospects (new music, a tour?). Dave introduces a new segment called “You’re A Flick Fandango Phony,” and is (thankfully) relieved of having to make stuff up for The Midnight Scroll. BUT in the middle of all of that… things turn serious!

Donna helps Dave go into ‘trivia training’ in anticipation of a possible face-off with Stephen Colbert. Up for grabs? Ric Ocasek’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame award! Okay… well, technically it might not be on the table… Ric did promise to give it to Stephen Colbert if he ever received one… and if he does pass it on, will Stephen put it on the line? I guess we’ll see if Mr. Colbert is man enough to accept the challenge!ep20-2

Dave is put through his paces with a 50 question quiz all about the band. The hilarious fallout from the exercise includes an unexpected cameo appearance from Alberto Vargas, some alternate ideas for Benjamin’s solo album, The Lace, and a shaky confirmation of how many fingers Elliot Easton-Steinberg-Shapiro REALLY has. A few frustrations with the test seem to jangle up the results a little… Stay tuned for Dave and Donna’s own Cars’ Trivia quiz down the road.

Some important links to have handy:

  1. Send Stephen Colbert a tweet and let him know that he needs to get in the ring!
  2. Want to try the Cars trivia quiz for yourself? Click here to take it, and then share your score with us! Comment on the youtube vid (link below) OR…
  3. Find us on Facebook! Join the Night Thoughts Podcast group.
  4. Subscribe to our youtube channel and never miss a show. You can take a listen to the older shows, too (back when Donna was a nicer co-host).
  5. Send us an email! It’s always such a treat to hear feedback, get new ideas, and answer questions from other Cars fans. Contact the pod at nightthoughtspodcast@gmail.com.
  6. If you missed getting cool and unique Cars merch for Christmas, it’s not too late! Treat yourself to some goodies at Tee Public!
  7. Jump on that Twitter train! Follow Dave here, follow Donna here, and heck, you might as well follow Roy Thomas Baker while you’re at it — he’s the man!

This show ends up being our longest episode to date, clocking in at just over two hours. Grab your headphones and listen to it while you do your chores… that’s what I did. Enjoy!

Episode 18: Reacting to The Rock Hall

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December 13, 2017, marks a date that the Fanorama will long remember: The Cars were chosen for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Dave and Donna chat about how that feels as a fan after waiting through 14 years of eligibility and 3 years of nominations. They also take a look at what the ins and outs of the induction ceremony might entail, and speculate on how the band might best honor Benjamin.

chance.gifAlso discussed: Will Dave and Donna be at the induction ceremony in Cleveland? Will they be able to podcast live from the Rock Hall?? With PRESS CREDENTIALS???

Our special visit from listener Kurt was cut short by a call from Ric Ocasek, but it was nice of him to pop in and say hi! We also had a message from an irate listener for the Midnight Scroll… sort of. Pu-leeze, people! Write in! In fact, Donna convinces Dave to offer a hilarious incentive to get you to drop us a line — it’s SO worth it! Email us at nightthoughtspodcast@gmail.com.

Oh, and just to clarify… Stevie Nicks is not sitting in as guest host; that actually IS Donna’s raspy voice. Thankfully, she didn’t have to gargle apple cider vinegar on the air (though she was prepared). Um, and please excuse the clanking of her spoon as she rudely eats ice cream… She gets a pass because she’s sick.

Click below to listen, subscribe and comment. Don’t forget to follow us on twitter (@night_spots, @sweetpurplejune), too!

Next episode is scheduled for December 29, 2017. Wishing you all a very safe and happy holiday season!

 

About Benjamin and the Rock Hall

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Benjamin at Live Aid, 1985

Today they announced that The Cars would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the “Class of 2018.”

I’ve been anticipating it, of course; it’s been on my mind for months. I’m not very well versed on all the ins and outs of the Rock Hall in general; never paid a whole lot of attention over the years because I like what I like and don’t really care what awards my favorites garner. When I joined The Cars world it became a ‘thing’ for me to put on the watchlist, because the guys were eligible in 2003 and nominated in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and as fans we wanted them IN. So I researched a bit; tried to figure out how it mattered overall, and how much it mattered to me. I love the band and I believe they deserve to have their name on that roster, for those who think the roster is important. But really…

Whenever anything with the band happens, a lot of my heart celebrates and gets so happy and excited, but I also get so achy, thinking of you and knowing you’re gone and unable to put your living fingerprint on all of this. Benjamin, would you care? If you were still here, how much would it matter to you? That’s what I keep thinking about… and so I speculate and ponder and take my best guesses about how you would feel.

People talk about what a private person you were. Shy and reserved offstage, somewhat of a ‘closed book’ about your innermost thoughts and feelings. Genuinely humble and unpretentious; able to separate yourself from your rockstar life. I think about you off in the woods, fishing and hunting, or out on your boat, breathing in the tangy air. Your quiet, solitary pursuits… but that wasn’t all of who you were.

You were a Cleveland native. You loved your city and your hometown fans; your loyalty was obvious and enduring. And you are adored and respected by your town. What a delight it would have been for you to come home, triumphant! The enthusiastic celebrations in your honor would have pleased you very much and overwhelmed your humble heart, I think.

From your youngest days you were making music, but it wasn’t enough to just play it, you wanted others to hear it. You dropped out of high school to pursue your dreams, leaving your home and relationships behind in the quest for that break through… for the opportunity to find an outlet for your talent. Your abilities were all over the board: that voice that could move mountains, those talented hands. You played drums, rhythm guitar, bass, keyboards… you did whatever it took to be on the stage. There was music in you that needed to get out.

And there was a performer’s soul in you that needed your essence to be heard.

You loved touring; being on the road. You put your heart into your shows, and you made time to connect with your fans. You played right up until a week before your death, until your body said ‘no more.’ You went out doing what you loved to do.

To be recognized by a large group of your peers, after all of these years, for your influence on music history and the part you played in the legacy of rock and roll… I think you would have loved it. I can just see your humble smile, with that little air of surprise and delight. I can imagine the deep satisfaction radiating from you. Ah Benjamin, how I would love for you to be here! To have one more moment in the sun before it sets on The Cars.

Seeing the induction will be bittersweet, Benjamin. Your name will be mentioned, and lots of attention drawn to your amazing talents and irreplaceable contributions; with any luck your voice will ring out over the crowd. I will be so happy that the world will have their eyes and ears on your music, just how you liked it.

If only…