Live Review: Cheap Trickby Mitch Goldman
Showbox Theatre, Seattle, WA 4/1/97
In some ways, Cheap Trick's 1997 tour will be compared to the KISS tour of last year (albeit with smaller box office receipts)…a 70's act out to prove they can still rock after a generation out of the public eye. And like KISS, Cheap Trick never really went away; they just made some questionable music. But while KISS's show is about theatrics and production values more than the ability of middle-agers to really rock, the Tricksters proved at their Seattle show (ending a tour of club headline dates) that they still deliver the goods.
In fact, I'd say Cheap Trick rocked harder and better in 1997 than when I saw them in 1981 on the All Shook Up tour. That tour found the band past their late-70's prime, trying to fill arenas with visuals and staging to make up for their flagging musical commitment. And the ensuing decade was no kinder to the foursome; a string of lackluster albums and record-label enforced hits ("The Flame" reached Number One in 1988) reduced the power-pop pioneers to Meatloaf status…bloated, ineffective pop music. 1994 represented a return to form, with the excellent Woke Up with a Monster album, but a tour opening for (ironically enough) Meatloaf did nothing to return them to prominence. 1997 promises to change all that; with a new, eponymous album release in April being heralded as a return to form, a Steve Albini-produced Subpop single giving the band much-needed indie credibility, and a string of flat-out awesome performances, the Tricksters are back.
Wisely focussing their set on their first five albums plus a generous helping of new tunes (and unfortunately nothing from the Monster album), Cheap Trick blew the roof off the Showbox in Seattle. The band's approach hasn't really changed: guitarist Rick Neilson (sporting a goatee) still tosses hundreds of picks into the crowd while changing guitars with every tune (sporting his legendary five-neck monstrosity on the set ending "Surrender"), playing up a storm while referencing familiar riffs all night; drummer Bun E. Carlos (minus most of his hair!) still remaining rock-steady behind the kit; bassist Tom Petersson (with a really short haircut) adding texture with the 12-string basses he helped invent; and vocalist Robin Zander (looking not one day older than he did in 1978) is still one of the most amazing and gymnastic singers in rock. Opening with their biggest hit "I Want You To Want Me" (and effectively getting it out of the way), Trick barreled through a cross-section of their best material; from intense hard-rock moments like "High Roller" and the title cut from 1978's Heaven Tonight (their best album) to pop classics like "Dream Police" and "Southern Girls". The songs made famous on the At Buddokan album got the biggest reaction, most notably the clock-chimes riff that opens "Clock Strikes Ten" and of course, the show ending "Goodnight Now". Hearing great tunes like "Hot Love" (from their groundbreaking 1977 debut album) and "Come On Come On" made it easy for me to believe I was back in the 70's, finishing high school and convinced that great rock music could save the world. I know better now, but there's no denying the power of great melodies. Cheap Trick know this and use it to full effect, whether its allowing Zander's voice to soar on new ballads like "Shelter" (all of the new tunes sounded great), or Petersson's lead vocal on the Dream Police classic "I Know What I Want". And of course Rick Neilson's onstage antics take a backseat to his playing, at times heavy and pummeling (especially on The Move cover "Brontosaurus") and at other times moving and gorgeous.
While this summer's opening slot on the Stone Temple Pilots tour will undoubtedly give the band their highest profile in years, Cheap Trick really come alive in a club. In the confines of a small venue, with a devoted crowd, this near-middle-age band rocks with the fervor and commitment of any young band today. That they do it with style, class, humor, and large doses of melody is a bonus. Make no mistake…Cheap Trick are back, once again asking the musical question "Are you ready to rock?". This fan, at least, answers with a resounding "YES!".
I Want You to Want Me
Copyright © 1997
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