DVD Review: The Cars Unlocked – The Live Performances
By Ben Rhudy Oct 19, 2006, 13:37 GMT
Founded in 1977 by Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr, The Cars shook up the music scene with their distinctive sound and modern aesthetic, both of which continue to influence musical style today. A dominant presence on the charts throughout the 1980s, the band released six multi-platinum albums that spawned over a dozen top twnty hits and led to sold out tours worldwide. Now you can experience the thrill of seeing ...more
When most people think of ‘80’s music, one band comes to mind: The Cars. No other of the decade’s musical acts represented their time and culture better than Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr’s motley crew of digital rockers. Listening to The Cars is literally like getting a musical snapshot of a time when big sunglasses, and the crunchy hair was the cool trend.
However, The Cars were able to transcend becoming a novelty of their time. Young rockers of today often swipe the band’s muted style and simple lyrics, to mixed results. The patented Elliot Easton guitar solo has even dug it’s way into the heart of recent pop music, even as far as to be commemorated in song by bands like Weezer and The Hives.
Finding the perfect mix of crunchy guitar riffs straight out of the 1970’s, catchy lyrics and synthesizers, The Cars mesmerized millions of fans across the world and rose from garage band nothingness to international fame in a handful of years. Founded in 1977 by Ocasek and Orr, the band’s self-titled debut album hit #3 on the Billboard charts, thanks in part to the popular single “Just What I Needed,” which, in my opinion, is one of the greatest rock songs ever written.
Now, in 2006, The Cars have returned to ‘80’s music lovers’ collections in the form of a documentary/album The Cars: Unlocked featuring unreleased live concert footage and 14 re-mastered, never-before-heard tracks featuring live recordings of hits such as “Magic,” “Just What I Needed,” and “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Footage for the DVD is filmed almost entirely with VHS, with tons of grain ghosting present. While I didn’t think this detracted from the overall experience of seeing The Cars live for the first time, video aficionados should at least be forewarned. During some of the backstage scenes, you’ll definitely start to feel like your grandmother could’ve shot better.
The original live audio recordings have been completely re-mastered and revamped for a high-quality 5.1 surround mix. I was amazed at the quality that was coming out of my system, especially considering the age of the footage. The same can’t be said for the dialogue during the spoken segments as the candid small-talk is a little hard to understand.
The interview audio fares far worse, with severe distortion during the entirety of each segment. It doesn’t really help that the band members felt it necessary to mumble most of their answers either. Also, there is no real presentation to speak of during the entire thing, so you may find yourself wondering just what exactly it is you’re hearing.
One of the coolest parts of watching the DVD is getting to take a peek at the band members off the stage. Watching the footage, it becomes clear that while Ocasek and the gang were idolized by millions for their cool on-stage presence, they were really music geeks at heart (particularly Elliot Easton.) Random hotel room props are used and abused, lunchmeat is thrown and the viewer gets to see what it was like to be famous rock group in the 1980’s.
One myth that this set will probably clear up for many people is the fact that while Rick Ocasek wrote nearly all of the songs that The Cars played live, he didn’t really sing lead vocals that much, preferring hand the duties over to Orr. In later years, Orr still maintained that Ocasek was the leader of the band, despite his lack of lead vocals at most live concerts.
Extra features are sparse. Five bonus videos are tacked on, but their separation from the main group doesn’t really make any sense. Therefore, I’m not actually going to count those videos as anything special. A trailer for the set is included, which shows small snippets of the included footage. I’m not really sure why DVD creators do this? Isn’t it a bit useless to the person who just bought the set?
Anyone who has seen the faux “rockumentary” This Is Spinal Tap will appreciate a few chances to see pre-show warm-ups by the band, awkwardly tuned guitar strings and all. Hearing the guys sing off key over and over again during practice gave me a better appreciation of the actual live performances.
The CD that comes bundled with the set is basically just the re-mastered audio tracks from the DVD, with the exception of a few songs. For some reason, the songs didn’t sound that great in my car stereo (and yes, I do have the presets changed!). I won’t knock any points for the disc, since the source material doesn’t sound that great anyway. Overall, the disc is a valuable addition to the set for the simple fact that the contained tracks have never before been released to the public.
The Cars: Unlocked should be added to any music fan’s collection for two reasons: 1. all of the DVD/CD material has never been released before and 2. the audio quality of the music on both discs is really impressive. If I hadn’t received this set to review, I probably would’ve bought it anyway. Take that for what it is.