The Cars "Live At The Agora, 1978" (2017 Record Store Day release)

The Cars Live At The Agora, 1978 was a 2-LP set issued on Record Store Day 2017, limited to 5,000 copies. It was a previously unreleased recording of a concert performed by the Boston new wave quintet at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18, 1978. This concert took place the month after the release of the band’s platinum-selling self-titled debut album, which found success among both new wave enthusiasts and mainstream rock listeners. The 13 live cuts are spread out across the first three LP sides; the fourth side has an etching of a Cars “tire tread” logo designed by drummer David Robinson.

During this concert, the band performed all nine of the songs from the debut album, as well as "Night Spots", which later turned up on their second album, Candy-O. All of those songs maintain the same mixture of new wave tension and rock and roll accessibility that graced the studio versions. As they did on record, Ocasek and the late Benjamin Orr alternated the lead vocal duties, and both were in good form during this show, sounding young and hungry just before the band's popularity took off. Even more so than on record, Orr came across as a warmer counterpart to the chilly Ocasek. The Cars tended to use plenty of technology when making music, and some studio effects predictably get lost in the live setting (especially when it comes to the background vocals). However, Greg Hawkes' keyboards lose none of their futuristic vibe; on some songs (“Bye Bye Love”, “Moving In Stereo”), his keyboard work takes on an almost Theremin-like spacey-ness.

The band also performed two Ocasek compositions which did not make it onto the debut album, the demos of which later turned up as bonus tracks on the 1999 CD reissue of the album. These songs, "Take What You Want" and "Hotel Queenie", have a rawer, nervier new wave aesthetic than most Cars songs. Both of them show a strong Roxy Music influence; "Take What You Want" has guitar sounds straight out of the Velvet Underground.

Lest that causes you to forget that the Cars were a rock and roll band, the set ends with a cover of Eddie Cochran's rockabilly gem "Somethin' Else", sung by lead guitarist Elliot Easton. The Cars sound like a very classy Boston bar band on this cut, with Hawkes making an especially good impression on saxophone. It was as if the Cars were closing out their early beginnings and getting ready to soar into the big leagues. Good show, gentlemen!

The Cars - Live at the Agora 1978

The Cars "Live At The Agora, 1978" (Elektra/Rhino 081227940867) 2017

Track Listing:

Side A

1. Intro / Good Times Roll
2. Bye Bye Love
3. Night Spots
4. I’m In Touch With Your World

Side B

5. My Best Friend’s Girl
6. Moving In Stereo
7. All Mixed Up
8. Take What You Want

Side C

9. Don’t Cha Stop
10. You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
11. Just What I Needed
12. Hotel Queenie
13. Somethin’ Else

Side D consists of an etching of a Cars “tire tread” logo designed by David Robinson.

See also Rarebird's Cars Solo Album Reviews