Former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek recently ended an eight-year hiatus from recording with “Nexterday” — released on his own Inverse label — and, true to form, decided to support it with two shows, the first of which took place at this endangered punk mecca CBGB. Backed by the members of the Hong Kong — a New York-based power-pop band also signed to Inverse — Ocasek delivered a set that was, much like his earlier band efforts, at once affable and distant.
Rather than try to force-feed the small-but-attentive aud a steady diet of nouvelle Ocasek, the singer-guitarist smoothed the way by sequencing his set see-saw style — springboarding one Cars oldie into one new track for the perf’s duration. That arrangement worked admirably, in part because the backing band had seemingly absorbed every note of songs like “Best Friend’s Girl” and “You Might Think” during junior-high jam sessions.
While the past hits were presented with jukebox-like precision — save for “Drive,” for which Hong Kong singer Catherine Culpepper took lead vocals, they could’ve passed for the recorded versions — Ocasek stretched out a bit more on material from “Nexterday.”
He pumped up both the volume and tempo, for instance, on “Don’t Lose Me,” which made the leap from bouncy power-pop to white-knuckled Ramones-mania on its way from the studio to the stage. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the elegiac “Silver” — dedicated here to Ocasek’s late bandmate Ben Orr — shed its listless coat to reveal a shimmering core of lacy folk.
Ocasek didn’t interact much with the aud, and his distant demeanor seemed more peculiar in this intimate setting than it would’ve on a big stage. But every now and again, the singer would peer above his shades and crack just enough of a smile to indicate that he was — whether he’d admit it or not — glad to be back.