Fans of '80s music are an accepting and forgiving bunch these days. As long as a given band can reasonably re-create its hits live, who's to quibble about its lineup? No more so was this attitude better exemplified than by the pairing of the New Cars (with Todd Rundgren standing in for Ric Ocasek) and Blondie, which has had its own roster issues over the years.

This review was updated on May 23, 3006.

Fans of ’80s music are an accepting and forgiving bunch these days. As long as a given band can reasonably re-create its hits live 20 years on, who’s to quibble about its lineup? No more so was this attitude better exemplified than by the pairing of the New Cars (with the chameleonic Todd Rundgren standing in for the group’s primary force, Ric Ocasek, among other member changes) and recent Hall of Fame inductee Blondie, which has had its own roster issues over the years. Both pulled off the task at hand reasonably well, but it seemed hardly more than one last walk down memory lane.

Blondie has even admitted as much, having declared that this is its final go-round as a band. It’s hard to tell if singer Deborah Harry, age 60, has reached the same point as, say, Grace Slick, who years ago said she’d feel ridiculous if she were still onstage singing her old songs. The peculiar, sequined soccer-mom tracksuit look Harry chose didn’t help her cause much as the band opened with “Call Me.”

As the set wore on and the hits kept coming, however, she became more animated, hitting her stride vocally on “Picture This” and “Hanging on the Telephone.” A cover of Roxy Music’s “More Than This” was an odd choice, but the group, led by co-founder/guitarist Chris Stein, was always solid and took it up a notch on closers “In the Flesh,” “Rapture” and “One Way or Another.”

As for the New Cars, it’s rather unfortunate that Rundgren has to subvert the range of his own blue-eyed soulful voice into the constraints of Ocasek’s clipped, monochromatic delivery (as well as the style of the Cars’ other singer-bassist, the late Benjamin Orr).

The setlist, while filled with plenty of classic Cars material, became a bit schizophrenic with Rundgren’s repertoire thrown into the mix. The sandwiching of his mindless “Bang the Drum All Day” — which doesn’t become any more interesting in concert — between the tender ballad “Drive” and the extended heavy outro jam on “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” was nearly whiplash-inducing.

Given the presence of a small contingent of his own fans (the split between Blondie and Cars faithful was pretty even, as the house stayed mostly filled throughout the show), the inclusion of deep Rundgren tracks like “Black Maria” and the Nazz’s “Open My Eyes” was welcomed by some but probably puzzling to most.

From a pure musical performance standpoint, two figures stood out on the bill: the eminently watchable Blondie drummer Clem Burke, who made even the largely metronomic dance beat of “Heart of Glass” a study in physicality and showmanship; and the New Cars’ lead guitarist Elliot Easton, who consistently nailed his own brilliantly constructed southpaw leads and fills as originally recorded.

A new song, “Not Tonight” — sounding quite in the vein of the “Heartbeat City” era — was offered as a look to the future. But no one should really expect to see a full-scale New Cars rollout next year, if the aud’s lone apathetic reaction on the night was any indication.

The New Cars; Blondie

Gibson Amphitheater; 6,089 seats; $78.50 top

Production

Presented by VH1 Classic. Reviewed May 20, 2006.

Cast

Bands: (TNC) Todd Rundgren, Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes, Kasim Sulton, Prairie Prince; (B) Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Jimmy Destri, Paul Carbonara, Leigh Foxx, Kevin Patrick.
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