Cars tribute act hits Tupelo
The best thing about playing in a Cars tribute act is it never gets boring. The Boston band broke out in the late 1970s with a string of hits that ran the gamut from edgy jangle pop to swirling, ethereal rock, and no song exactly resembled another.
“The Cars had such a diverse palette of musical tastes, you listen to some of their music and sometimes wonder if it’s the same band,” Ken Marchione said recently. Panorama, the band he co-founded, will bring its pristine Cars reproduction to Tupelo Music Hall on Nov. 18, a co-bill with B-52s sound-alike Bikini Whale. “Their music will live on, and even after all these years they still sound fresh.”
That said, anyone looking to tackle The Cars’ catalog, from their eponymous debut to 1984’s Heartbeat City (the last-gasp Door to Door three years later doesn’t really count), should be more than a fan. The variety and complexity of songs like “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Hello Again” can challenge the most talented musician.
The five members of Panorama are up to the task. In fact, their stage act often improves on, or at least cleans up, the original group, as it employs prerecorded multitracking and layered vocals to emulate The Cars’ album sound.
“We want to make it note for note as perfect as we can,” Marchione said. “Because in a lot of ways they really were a studio band.”
Marchione and keyboard player Darren Muise, who are also in the J. Geils Band tribute act Whammer Jammer, came up with the idea for Panorama in 2019. The two were already Cars fans. Muise went to Berklee College of Music, where he latched onto Cars keys man Greg Hawkes, particularly liking his synthesizer work. Marchione picked up the guitar at age 6 and was smitten since “Just What I Needed” hit on WBCN and WRKO.
He marvels at guitarist Elliot Easton. “His solos … are songs within songs that can be hummed; the average listener gravitates to that,” he said. “That’s why I think he’s been so successful as a soloist and a writer because he makes these intricate arrangements for the guitar that everybody can latch on to.”
The first piece in putting the band together was singer-guitarist Darin Ames, who answered Marchione and Muise’s Craigslist ad. Drummer Gary Agresti came next, bringing additional skills as a sound man — he runs the mix at BankNH Pavilion in Gilford during the shed season. Bass player Jeff Ares came in last, replacing one who’d only played one gig.
Ares was a find. “It was fate — he knew about 25 songs when he walked through the door,” Marchione recalled, adding they did a full rehearsal with him the same day. “He just stepped in, he knows every song, he’s a great bass player, he looks the part and he loves The Cars. It was just an absolute perfect fit, and that completed the band.”
The doppelganger band opens its show with a brief Cars history video and uses career-spanning visual imagery throughout the set. They perform a couple of times a month and recently completed a well-received jaunt to Wisconsin. They’ve even received acknowledgement from the objects of their tribute. At a recent benefit concert, Ares and Ames sat in with Eliot Easton for a pair of songs.
At the show, Marchione had a chance to speak with his musical hero Easton.
“I got to ask him a bunch of questions about a lot of the solos that I’ve been playing for years now,” Marchione recalled. “He was fantastic, and a super nice guy. He knew that we had a tribute to The Cars, and he wasn’t in any way upset; he was flattered. That was a bucket list item for me.”
Panorama (The Cars tribute) w/ Bikini Whale (B-52s tribute)
When: Saturday, Nov. 18, 8 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
Tickets: $30 at tupelohall.com
Featured photo: Panorama. Courtesy photo.