with Special Guests Ian Moore, American Fuse
November 7, 2015
The Bomb Factory, Dallas TX
If any one-rock outfit defines the American Spirit it is without a doubt Rockford, Illinois’ Cheap Trick. Beginning with their acclaimed self-titled debut in 1977, followed quickly by their sophomore record In Color, the band was the Heartland version of England’s famed The Who. A musical rock powerhouse slathered in melody with a young man’s angsty lyrical prowess, penned by chief writer guitarist extraordinaire Rick Nielsen, the songs personified the pent-up hormones of suburbia; tales of the babysitter, the leering adults and the restless pursuit of young lust all delivered via maximum volume and the voice of Robin Zander, to this day, pound for pound, arguably American rock’s greatest set of pipes. 1978’s Heaven Tonight broke the band from a late night cult radio act to the mainstream with the power of the opening track about teenage alienation “Surrender” with it’s “mommy’s alright, daddy’s alright” refrain, it was “Baba O’Riley” in a satin jacket; less tough, less grit, but full of rage. However, it was the masterwork At Budokan that launched the band, showcasing its formidable live show and stellar performances including a riveting reworking of In Color’s “I Want You To Want Me” plus a drum solo and the kitchen sink version of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame”, giving the soul dance hall classic a metallic skin. The quick studio release of 1979’s Dream Police and its title track nailed it as the band closed out the 70’s on the front covers of Circus, Creem, Rolling Stone and 16 magazines; quite a feat within a two-year span.
Flash forward 35 years and Saturday night saw the band and capacity audience alike reliving the 70’s once again as the band focused heavily on those first (4) studio recordings. Flanked by their now infamous black & white checker board staging and backdrop, with amps painted in the familiar monochromatic patterns and after highly raucous sets by American Fuse, and Austin legend of sorts, Ian Moore, Cheap Trick made their way to the stage with all members (aside from original drummer Bun E. Carlos who’s been gone for several years now) from day one intact. Nielsen, Zander and 12-string bassist Tom Peterson, who along with Nielsen’s son Daxx now helming the skins, launched right into “Hello There”, their clarion call from In Color. The venue’s sound system was able to pick up the subtleties in Nielsen’s playing while allowing Zander to reach for the far corridors with his tuneful bellowing. “Big Eyes” followed with those large riffs and massive rhythms supplied en masse thru Peterson’s enormous playing. “Hot Love” a punk-filled piece of lust from the debut came roaring out followed by the B-side nugget “Lookout” made famous on At Budokan. Zander’s libertine vocals really started to come to life at this point. Like a distance runner, the first few miles are the ease-in point, now he was in full stride.
Heaven Tonight, a magnificent record that is parallel to other releases from that year like Born To Run and Van Halen, splitting the difference between the two. “On Top Of The World” summed up the essence of the babysitter fantasy as “she would touch you there, touch you there……touch you there”, a peerless teenage Friday romp while the folks are out. “California Man” and “Stiff Competition” both sit at the cusp of metal if Cheap Trick ever wandered into that terrain; thankfully their brand of rock never needed the “clang” because it was already filled with “bang”. Venturing back to the first disc, “Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School” once again lives below the waistband of young male lust. “Need Your Love” from Dream Police was always a slow burn and stayed the course this night as the “Dazed and Confused” lumbering-style pace was highlighted by some of Nielsen’s best guitar work to date only tempered by a monolithic rhythm section. “Heaven Tonight” is a funeral dirge of a track hard-wired in a tale of sex and deliverance. Credit drummer Daxx Nielsen with keeping the band crawling towards the finish with burly fills at a snail’s march.
Cheap Trick has never been one to shy away from their devotion to all things Fab Four and once again turned a classic Beatles tune on its head with a fiery and loose version of “Magical Mystery Tour”, only halfway thru it did some in the crowd even gather what they were hearing. Cheap Trick, perfectionists with a raw edge one could say. Relying heavily on the early stages of their storied career came to a halt in order to satisfy those who live and die by commercial radio as “The Flame” was brought out with Zander never missing a note of the band’s biggest radio success, followed quickly by easily their most recognizable track the aforementioned “I Want You To Want Me”, four-minutes of power pop sizzle that Phil Spector would have given his eyeteeth to record. It resonates from the opening drum roll to the final note. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum as “Dream Police” actually got a more rousing reception as lights swathed the crowd and the entire theater sang the chorus, giving Zander a rare break. It remains a big, loud rock achievement as the keyboards are distinct enough but never get in the way and it’s Nielsen’s mental patient mid-point and following guitar solo that really take the track into overdrive.
The crescendo of the evening came two-fold as the strains of “Surrender” came blaring forth briefly turning us all 18 once again, having to endure the nightmare of walking in on your parents banging to your KISS records. American Fuse vocalist Nate Fowler joined Zander in delivering the goods but let’s face it; it’s Zander’s grail and Nielsen’s most poignant track. As it began so shall it end as “Goodnight Now” grabbed the cat by the tail one last time, one part Thin Lizzy, one part Ramones, perfectly timed to send you out into the evening streets with your ears afire.
Cheap Trick is always at a crossroads when performing; the hits, the keepers, the barnburners, the cult favorites are all there for the taking. Narrowing down a workable set-list that differs nightly must be mentally Herculean, having to gauge the audience before you even set eyes on them. Thankfully for the band, their audience is so studied and appreciative of what they have done that any track is a great track and if they get one gem they haven’t heard before, then it’s $40 well spent. The world’s hardest working band is eyeballing their mid-60s but show zero signs of slowing down. Must be that midwestern work ethic thing.