Reunited Cars get their engines, longtime fans revved up

Ric Ocasek sang some of the songs performed by the late bassist Ben Orr. Ric Ocasek sang some of the songs performed by the late bassist Ben Orr. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / May 27, 2011

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After a nearly 25-year layoff, it wasn’t surprising that it took a little while for the Cars to get into gear last night at the House of Blues. But once the iconic, Boston-spawned rockers locked in, their engine purred as if almost no time had passed.

While the 85-minute set fell short of explosive and felt a tad skimpy, given the long list of hits and popular album tracks that didn’t make the cut. Instead the now foursome — sadly shorn of the late bassist Ben Orr — dove into their shiny chest of new wave power pop treasures and served up the sleek sounds embedded in the brains of several generations of fans.

Without fanfare, they took the stage and launched into “Good Times Roll.’’ But that sentiment really kicked in around the time of the delightfully off-kilter “I’m in Touch With Your World,’’ which frontman Ric Ocasek prefaced with a shout-out to the band’s old stomping grounds, Kenmore Square rock club The Rat.

The specter of the past was in the air, but the present was well represented by songs from the Cars’ just-released reunion album, “Move Like This,’’ which were some of the liveliest of the night.

The sheen-meets-grime riffage of “Keep on Knocking’’ and the stinging “Drag on Forever’’ injected a muscularity into the proceedings and were fresh reminders of the intricate interlocking of the cool synths of Greg Hawkes, the percolating grooves of David Robinson, the ingeniously lyrical guitar solos of Elliott Easton, and the laconic vocals of Ocasek. (Although he backed off a few of the higher notes, Ocasek sang the songs originally performed by Orr.)

The night’s biggest singalongs by the sold-out crowd came during the irresistible refrains of “Let’s Go,’’ “Just What I Needed,’’ and “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,’’ while the space age slink and thump of “Moving in Stereo’’ drew huge cheers.

The band kept talk to a minimum — tipping a cap to Orr, commenting on the surreal nature of playing in Boston, offering gratitude — but the famously stoic Ocasek broke into several big grins during the show and asked the crowd, “You know we love you, right?’’

It may not have been big showy love, but it was evident.

THE CARS At: The House of Blues, last night