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July 27, 1984 - Image 15

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1984-07-27

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ARTS
Friday, July 27, 1984

Page 13

The Michigan Daily

The Cars cruise 'The Knob'

By Larry Dean
T HE CARS at Pine Knob this week-
end won't be just in the lot. For,
true to the principle of tourism, the
Cars are playing Saturday and Sunday
night in the area's most behyped am-
phitheaters.
Their new album, Heartbeat City, is
selling up a storm, with "You Might
Think," "Magic," and "Drive" the
radiofare so far released. All but the
formerest are pretty limp tunes, hook-
laden, but mutations from the same
mold. In another light, you could say
that they grew on the same side of the
tree.
I had my one and only Cars concert
experience at "the Knob," for
Panorama. They played dual nights
then, too, although both drew only
three-quarter capacity crowds.
Elliott Easton mingled with early
arrivals (like me), wearing a purple
silk jacket, purple shades, snakeskin
boots, black jeans, and balanced blonde
bombshells, each to a squared-
shoulder. Elliot, that eve, was ever the
axe victim, wheeling off slick boots
with left-handed deftness.
The stage was taken to the
minimalist drone of "Shoo-Be-Doo,"
from Candy-O, audience booing in unin-
tentional tune with Greg Hawkes' syn-
theiszer. He and Ric Ocasek, batonist
for the band, braved the stage alone,
before other members added them-
selves-first Easton, then bassist Ben
Orr, and finally, drummer David
Robinson-successfully careening into
"Touch and Go," that last September's
radio wonder. Much cheering, despite
"Touch's" deviant time signature
changes.
But the cars are like that! Or can be.
Little touches of bizarreness in the Top
40 locally. Remember Robinson's off-
beat, on-beat drumming in the one that
began it all, "Just What I Needed?" It
was that type of tiny, skewed, detail
that made my grin tenfold wider. And
yours? It should've.
As their name implies, the Cars
sometimes break down. Shake It Up,

Ric Ocasek, surrounded by other makes and models of Cars, will tantalize the motley mob at Pine Knobthis Saturday
and Sunday.

the fourth Cars LP, was the finest since
their first; but Heartbeat City is a trip
back to the garage, and up on the
blocks. Recorded in merry olde
England with Robert John "Mutt"
Lange producing (who's motto, "I only
record bands that sell," makes me
wanna retch!), the new record is chock
full of Cars trademarks, but sans the
emotion to make 'em stick. Really, six
years is a little too long to just cruise in
musical neutral.
There are a few gems on Heartbeat
City, but alas, they're not likely to be
the ones you hear over your own
celestion speakers. The title track, f'r
instance, is a lush, romantic ballad with.
some outstanding lyrics and musician-
ship, albeit subdued-like as per-usual.
It ends the album, so at least you go
away thinking, "hey, there's hope."

The big prob with Heartbeat City is
the non-presence of any "real" per-
cussion. Our friend, Mr. Lange, decided
that, in order to get the tightest, most t
perfect music ever ever ever, Dave
would have to learn how to program the
annoyingly-accurate CMI synthesizer,
a relative of Big Brother that perfectly
reproduces any sound in the spectrum.
So Dave and Greg spent a month
toiling with the thing, until it could
drum in place of the "real" things. The
result? Well now that I know the story
behind the conspiracy (as recently
spilled in a Cars interview elsewhere), I
listen to the record and say, "You
know, they sound like drums, but
there's no depth, or ring like wooden
percussion. No ... soul."
Hey, you've heard the hits-I bet you

were fooled into believing it was the
"real" thing, and not Candid Syn-
thesizer. News is that Dave's pissed,
and I don't blame him. How would you
like your job taken away - even for a
teensy-beensy while-by a computer?
Otherwise, the show goes on. Pine
Knob is not exactly acoustically per-
fect, but it's swell for guzzling beer and
getting hassled by the muscle-bound
security. I don't mean the nice folks
who peek at your tickets and offer to
direct you, but rather, the halfmoon of
welterweights that stand, cross-armed,
at the front of the stage, to protect the
stars. So no shenanigans, you Knob-
bers! Enjoy the show, and come back
intact, inebriated, and driven from
tears.

Records-
Violent Femmes-'Hallowed Ground'
(Slash Records)
The Violent Femmes' second album, Hallowed
Ground, is a surprisingly risky departure for a band
who has managed that rare thing - actually selling
records on their first short, despite independent label
distribution and no more prior visibility than a strong
regional following.
Their self-titled first LP on Slash was last year's
least likely party smash, with its joyously spare in-
strumentation (man, those trashcan drums-
slaphappy bass! a real teen combo!) and Gordon
Gano's quintessentially fun-sad-adenoidal whining
about Mom, God, love, and wanting to get laid so bad.
Hallowed Ground is at first disappointing, because
it confounds expectations-whatever you initially
liked about the first LP just isn't here, probably. Oh,
Gordon Gano still sounds deliciously stuck in the
midst of adolescent vocal change, and the playing of
the band (Gano on guitar, Brian Ritchie on bass, Vic-
tor de Lorenzo on drums, with lots of doubling on ad-
ditional instruments) is more warm and imaginative
than ever.
Still, you may ask, can I dance to it? Well, no, not

exactly. "I Hear the Rain," which hops about over a
marimba melody line, would serve-only it's an in-
convenient minute and a half long. The charmingly
bluegrassy "Jesus Walking on the Water" is also
conducive to some feet action, but it's perfectly sin-
cere despite the beat and Gano's wino-gets-religion
warbling, and how easily can you imagine your frien-
ds with the cool haircuts jumping up to, er, Praise the
Lord? No, these songs will not lend themselves to the
dorm party or the first records' did.
But, allowing a play or two for adjustment of ex-
pectations, Hallowed Ground wields rich rewards of
its own. "Country Death Song," a sardonic joke-
curiosity in concert, gets the full fiddle-and-all
treatment here, and emerges a surprisingly distur-
bing tale of obsession and violence. "I Know It's True
But I'm Sorry to Say" has the feel of a traditional
ballad or lullaby, while "Sweet Misery Blues" sounds
like a comedy-relief show tune. The Femmes have an
admirable sense of freedom in their writing and
arranging of songs-'Add It Up" was the most
striking example of this on the debut record, and here
the seven-minute "Never Tell" similarly .though
without the dance pace) strays wherever it pleases in
terms of musical/lyrical tone with remarkable

fluidity, never growing indulgent or padded. "It's
Gonna Rain" is pure revival-tent gospel, and the not-
easily-described "Black Girls" is roughly six
minutes of Spike Jones meets end-of-the-set
jazz/rock rave-ups.
The big news about the album, of course, is that
girls/Mom/cars/etc. have been replaced by Mr.
Jesus Christ as the primary concern for songwriter
Gano. Don't worry, the Violent Femmes show no
signs of turning into Up With People yet. Besides,
though Gordon says in interviews that his faith is
quite simple and sincere, the lyrics of, say, "Country
Death Song" and "Black Girls" offer far from un-
complicated yay-God rhetoric. The words aren't as
"funny" as they frequently were on Violent Femhses,
but their new ambiguity is almost equally appealing.
In any case (excepting the unavoidably straightfor-
ward "Jesus Walking on the Water," and perhaps
"It's Gonna Rain"), one may interpret as one will.
Hallowed Ground isn't likely to get the Femmes on-
to any more sales charts or into any lifelong cor-
porate contracts, but it's an album of unusual range
and imagination that gets better with each listening.

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