Nexterday, Ric Ocasek’s latest album, was recorded in the musician’s home. Still, it felt slightly surreal to have the ex-Cars frontman in our own living room last Friday (Oct. 14), playing a quick set to a rain-dampened mass of Spin personnel and friends. Perched calmly before a seated audience in weathered jeans, black-framed glasses, and clunky lace-up boots, Ocasek looked and sounded like the new wave godfather of indie kids everywhere.
It’s been two decades since the Cars’ lengthy joyride up the Billboard charts, but years of solo work and production credits (everything from Weezer’s 1994 debut to Le Tigre’s This Island) have kept Ocasek’s songwriting sharp. He hasn’t lost the pop smarts and punky attitude that lay beneath the synth-laden sheen of the Cars and Candy-O, and Friday’s acoustic, effects-free performance pushed that foundation to the forefront.
Songs from Nexterday comprised half of the 30-minute set, but Ocasek never mentioned the new album. He didn’t have to. A stripped-down “Moving in Stereo” — its steady, grounding pulse provided by guest bassist Ted Casterline — could’ve come from the same record as “Bottom Dollar,” a song 17 years its junior, while the rhythmic strut of Nexterday opener “Crackpot” comfortably gave way to 1981’s “I’m Not the One.” By the time Ocasek launched into “My Best Friend’s Girl” with a nostalgic smirk, the audience was more than happy to join Casterline (from Ocasek-produced co-ed noise-pop outfit the Hong Kong) on those familiar handclaps.
This may not have been the Cars, but it was still Ric Ocasek in the driver’s seat, alternately deadpanning and hiccupping his way around bubblegum melodies like some cross between Lou Reed and a proto-punk Buddy Holly. All we could do was try to clap in time.
Click the links in the right column for streaming video from Ric Ocasek’s SPINhouse Live performance. Filmed by Peter Gaston, edited by Jeremy Buhler, Pilot Light Pictures.
Check out our photo gallery from Ric’s set.