No rock popmasters are more calculating or more clever than Ric Ocasek and Nick Lowe. Both are studio wizards who assemble songs out of musical jigsaw pieces, each cut to fit perfectly with no rough edges. Ocasek uses streamlined New Wave with sinuous synthesizer lines and synthesizer-sounding guitars. Lowe uses stripped-down old wave with twanging guitars and soulful organ. Ocasek's Boston quintet, the Cars, and Lowe's British quintet, the Chaps, recreated their leaders' records quite admirably at the Capital Centre last night.
The Cars used backdrop murals of minimalist functional architecture as appropriate settings for their music. They showed the same severe restraint on stage as in the studio: hugging the pulsing throb and compact melodies of Ocasek's songs. Guitarist Elliot Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes sneaked hypnotic electronic solo lines into the songs without ever distracting from the obsessive, unemotional vocals by Ocasek and bassist Benjamin Orr. As attractive as the melodies, dance rhythms and compressed arrangements were, the bottlecapped emotions limited the band's impact.
Nick Lowe & the Chaps included Lowe (producer of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker) on guitar instead of bass, Paul Carrack (of Squeeze and Ace) on keyboards, Martin Belmont (of Brinsley Schwartz and the Rumour) on guitar and Terry Williams (of Rockpile) on drums. This all-star gathering of British pub-rock alumni played songs from most of their alma maters with bouncy, infectious good humor. Lowe, sporting a gray mop-top, charged through the catchy melodies and traditional styles with a wry humor that implied he didn't take any of it too seriously. Lowe could use some of Ocasek's obsessions, and Ocasek could use some of Lowe's humor.