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Eron Otcasek
The Cars (1978-1987 Lineup)
Writing Credits:

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 twenty hits and led to sold out tours worldwide.

Now you can experience the thrill of seeing The Cars live with The Cars: Unlocked. Featuring over twenty never-before-seen live performances from their sold-out U.S. tours plus interview footage, sound checks, slide shows, backstage antics, and home video shot by the band, this limited edition set is your key to unlock The Cars.

Live performances include: "My Best Friend's Girl", "Lets Go", "Gimme Some Slack", "Up and Down", "Just What I Needed", "Don't You Stop", "Moving in Stereo", "Candy-O", "You Might Think", "Drive", "Tonight She Comes", "Magic", "Shake It Up", and "Good Times Roll".

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English PCM Stereo
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 72 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 10/17/2006

• Five Bonus Tracks
• Trailers
• “The Cars Unlocked – The Live Performances” CD
• 28-Page Photo Lyric Booklet


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Cars: Unlocked - The Live Performances (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 12, 2006)

2006 found the Cars in a more prominent public place than they’d occupied in years. Unfortunately, most of that attention wasn’t particularly positive. A reunion of sorts occurred called “The New Cars”, but since it featured neither of the band’s original singers, it fizzled.

Happily, this new DVD of live material features the original lineup, not “The New Cars”. The Cars Unlocked – The Live Performances spans 1978 to 1987 as we see the band at various stages. This means we get tracks from across the career of the original band. From 1978’s self-titled debut, we get “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Moving in Stereo”, “Good Times Roll”, “Just What I Needed”, and “Don’t Cha Stop”, while 1979’s Candy-O produces “Let’s Go”, “Nightspots” and the title song. Moving to 1980’s Panorama, we find “Gimme Some Slack” and “Up and Down”, whereas 1981’s Shake It Up presents the title number. 1984’s Heartbeat City presents “You Might Think”, “Magic”, and “Drive”. “Tonight She Comes” first appeared on a 1985 greatest hits release. We get nothing from 1987’s Door to Door, the original band’s final album.

Unlocked offers an odd program. It presents an awkward mix of concert performances and behind the scenes footage. Without question, the former elements prove the most interesting. Granted, no one should expect fireworks from the Cars on stage. I spend time on a music discussion board, and whenever the subject of “worst live acts” arises, the Cars always receive an awful lot of votes. If it weren’t for the perennially inconsistent Bob Dylan, they’d likely get more picks than any other act, an amazing fact given that they played together for less than a decade.

As seen in Unlocked, the live Cars weren’t exactly dynamic, and I’d guess that they come across worst in the context of a full show. Taken in dribs and drabs, though, they seem fine. The quality of the musical performances wasn’t the issue, as their tunes sound good as depicted here. The tracks don’t show many differences when compared to their studio equivalents, but they add a little punch and at least seem perfectly tight and enjoyable.

The reason the Cars are viewed as a poor live act comes from their stage demeanor. There’s not a lot happening up there, as the guys stand there and fail to display any personality. Again, this would seem like much more of a negative when you’re there in the arena. As viewed on a DVD, it doesn’t create a problem. You don’t feel like you missed much if you didn’t see them live, but you don’t get bored either.

Unfortunately, the rest of the DVD proves less satisfying. We see the band members on the road as they travel around, hang out in hotels and goof around backstage. Occasional interview tidbits emerge, but we mostly watch them in these candid settings.

Maybe another band would prove more interesting, but the “real life” Cars don’t seem any more compelling than their on-stage personae. They appear obsessed with sandwiches. One segment shows us how to make a grilled cheese in a toaster, and another shows the abuse of sandwiches and other catering items backstage.

None of these proves as amusing as intended. Kind of like baby pictures, it’s the kind of material that’s fun for the participants’ private consumption but not exactly fascinating for others. I suppose the clips communicate the tedium of life on the road, as I felt pretty bored after watching them. I didn’t get a good sense of the band or what they were about, though. In truth, the candid moments make the guys look like morons most of the time. Even a Denver Post interview turns self-indulgent and irritating.

All of this makes The Cars Unlocked a real mishmash of a program, and one that only occasionally becomes interesting. If the producers had decided to create a nice anthology of concert footage, that would’ve been much more compelling. Unfortunately, the choice to add all of the annoying candid footage drags down the quality of Unlocked.

The DVD Grades: Picture D/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

The Cars Unlocked – The Live Performances appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Since the songs were shot over a nine-year period under less than ideal conditions and with unspectacular equipment, don’t expect great picture quality.

Don’t even expect passable picture quality, actually. Unlocked consistently looked horrible. Sharpness was mushy and lackluster. The shots occasionally mustered decent definition, but not with any consistency. Instead, the clips tended to be soft and fuzzy. Jagged edges and shimmering weren’t an issue, but I noticed some edge haloes. Source flaws manifested themselves via lots of video interference and artifacts.

Colors usually looked terrible. They were muddy and messy all of the time. There was nothing dynamic or even remotely accurate in the tones, as they seemed thick and runny. Blacks were similarly inky and bland, while the low-light shots tended to be too dense and tough to discern. I can’t blame the DVD’s producers for these flaws, as the source material was problematic. Nonetheless, Unlocked remained an unattractive visual presentation.

On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Cars Unlocked proved considerably more successful. (The DVD also included a PCM stereo mix, but I chose the 5.1 version for my review.) Of course, the quality of the audio varied since the tracks spanned a number of years, but the tunes were always at least listenable, and they usually sounded better than that. Some distortion occasionally interfered, usually via crackly tones to guitars or vocals, but most of the material stayed clean. Highs showed reasonable clarity and brightness, while low-end was acceptable. Bass response could have been warmer and more dynamic, but I thought those elements were sufficient.

The soundfield stayed with a standard concert presentation. The songs offered inconsistent but generally decent stereo imaging in the front. Some of the tracks showed somewhat mushy breadth to the elements, I must admit, but this remained dependent on the source material. A few tracks were essentially monaural; for instance, “Moving in Stereo” ironically sounded chained to the front center.

The stereo imaging could have been wider but it seemed fine most of the time. The surrounds added some crowd noise but didn’t do much more than that, which was more than acceptable for this sort of presentation. Ultimately, Unlocked offered a lackluster but decent auditory experience.

As we shift to the extras, the DVD includes five Bonus Performances. We see “Cruiser” (shot in 1982), “Strap Me In” (1987), “Drive” (1987), “Touch and Go” (1982), and “Everything You Say” (1987). These come from the same sources as the tracks from the main program, though we don’t get interruptions from behind the scenes footage here. That makes their presentation preferable, and I wish the primary show had worked the same way. Some decent performances pop up and I like this component, even if the picture and sound quality remains problematic.

We also get some trailers. This area includes ads for Unlocked as well as Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides, and The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

A prime attraction comes from The Cars Unlocked – The Live Performances CD. This presents 14 live tunes. We get “Magic”, “Let’s Go”, “Touch and Go”, “Drive”, “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Tonight She Comes”, “Moving In Stereo”, “You Might Think”, “Just What I Needed”, “Good Times Roll”, “Hello Again”, “Double Trouble”, “Nightspots” and “Heartbeat City”. Performance-wise, the tracks all work pretty well. The Cars weren’t exactly a dynamic live band, but they brought a little zing to the tunes in the concert setting. I think all of the songs sound perfectly fine, and a few work better than their studio versions. For instance, “You Might Think” comes across as more muscular here and has an edge absent from the album rendition.

Unfortunately, audio quality varies from decent to weak. The sound works better as the CD progresses, at least. Early tracks come across like good audience recordings, while the later ones seem a bit more rich and full. Even at its best, though, the CD never produces very good audio quality. I like the versions of the songs but find this too tough to listen to for me to want to air it much.

The Cars Unlocked disappointed me. I’ve become more interested in the band recently and looked forward to a package that promised lots of good live footage. While it did present some decent concert performances, it weighed down its running time with inane band antics. Due to the flawed source material, picture quality was a mess. Audio was inconsistent but generally fine, at least, and we got a decent mix of extras here as well. Unlocked will appeal to serious Cars fans, but it doesn’t offer much appeal for more casual listeners.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.375 Stars Number of Votes: 24
2 3:
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