Review and photos by Blake Maddux
Given that Cheap Trick is in its fifth decade as a musical unit, it is surprising that the band’s commercial heyday lasted from only 1979 to 1982.
Between the latter year and 1988, Cheap Trick wandered aimlessly, bereft of the critical and commercial success that they had acquired so effortlessly—if sometimes separately—since their eponymous 1977 debut album. Despite scoring its first and only #1 hit of it career (“The Flame”) in 1988, Cheap Trick hit the skids again in the 90s and aughts, depending on its back catalog for sales and its cover of Big Star’s “In the Street” at the beginning of each episode of “That 70s Show” for exposure.
However, Cheap Trick has never been in it for the fame and fortune. This Rockford, Illinois, quartet has stuck together as long as there were fans who would listen. This sometimes meant taking opening slots for bands that they directly or indirectly influenced but with which there was probably negligible audience overlap. (Still, one never knows with a band of which even Scott Ian of Anthrax is a major fan.)
Whatever the case may be, the fact is that Cheap Trick attracted almost or at least 2,000 fans— including Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and another politician to be named later—to the Lynn Auditorium on Sunday night. The smart money would say that not one of them was there to hear “The Flame.” Heck, I might even wager that anywhere between one and 100 people in attendance did not know that the band that they were seeing sang that song. By excluding it from the set, the guys clearly had no intention of reminding or informing anyone of that fact.
My newcomer’s inability to expertly navigate the streets surrounding the Lynn Auditorium caused me to arrive approximately 15 minutes after the band punctually took the stage at 7:30. This caused me to miss—according to a remarkably well-updated Facebook page—”Hello There” (with which they have opened since at least 1979, as evidenced by that year’s legendary performance at Budokan), “Big Eyes,” and the quirky cover of The Move’s “California Man.”
For me, the show began with “Way of the World” and worked itself through selections such as “Stiff Competition,” “Need Your Love,” “High Roller,” “Stop This Game,” “I Know What I Want” (sang and preceded with a solo by bassist Tom Petersson), and “Fan Club,” which included the true-to-life lyrics “you stayed with us through thick and thin.”
The classics “I Want You To Want Me,” which I kid myself in thinking I could go without ever hearing again, and “Dream Police”—a frighteningly resonant tune in the age of NSA surveillance—closed the main set, which did not seem the least bit truncated despite my late arrival and its modest 75-minute running time.
Of course, everyone in the building knew that the show was not going to end there. The guys returned to the stage with “Never Had A Lot To Lose,” a somewhat perfunctory acknowledgment of its 1988 comeback album Lap of Luxury. After that, 67-year-old guitarist and de facto leader Rick Nielsen announced that, although they were not very political, they wanted to invite a friend named Scott Brown to the stage.
The former U.S. Senator proceeded to strum and sing along to “Surrender,” a song which no rock fan’s life is complete without having heard at least a couple of a dozen times. My guess is that it was probably not a coded bit of advice to Brown regarding his possible future political aspirations.
“Gonna Raise Hell,” the penultimate song of the evening, featured a solo by Rick’s son Daxx Nielsen. The younger Nielsen has been touring with Cheap Trick since it parted ways with its longtime drummer Bun E. Carlos in 2010. More recently, the remaining members and its former bandmate have been entangled in suits and countersuits over—what else?—money. This is unfortunate, if for no other reason than that Carlos’s accounts receivable-employee look was as much of a part of the band’s indelible image as Nielsen’s five-neck guitar, which eventually did make an appearance on Sunday night. (Speaking of abandoned trademarks, lead singer Robin Zander’s long blond hair was apparently tucked away under the security guard-type hat that he was wearing.)
Some fans surely missed hearing some personal favorites, as the band plucked nothing from its debut album. Nonetheless, the crowd (including Scott Brown) sauntered through the lobby showing no signs of feeling ripped off. At one point, they even briefly revisited the refrain from “Gonna Raise Hell” in unison
Ultimately, Cheap Trick demonstrated only insignificant signs of wear and tear. Therefore, they are all set to proceed as they have for the better part of the past 30 years—with classic songs in hand to play for the tens of thousands who are eager to hear them.
And to the many of you who aren’t prepared to buy the band’s records or pay to see them in concert, you can hear a Rick Nielsen composition every weeknight on “The Colbert Report.”
All photos posted with permission