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They Want You to Want Them

Shine up your old brown shoes, put on a brand-new shirt, Cheap Trick's in town

It was the band's fourth effort, the live At Budokan with its smash single "I Want You to Want Me" (their second stab at the song), that finally broke them stateside. A string of minor hits followed, from the dirty ditty "She's Tight" to the surreal rocker "Dream Police" to the anthemic "Tonight It's You." The band also had success with ballads such as "If You Want My Love" and even a cover of Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame." Petersson left the group for most of the '80s, but returned and the band scored a massive hit with the lighter-waving romantic anthem "The Flame" and had another with their cover of "Don't Be Cruel."

In the past few years, unlike many of their bigger-selling contemporaries, Cheap Trick has been name-checked as an influence by a surprisingly diverse group of younger musicians. Bands like Everclear, Smashing Pumpkins and Coldplay have sung their praises ("It would be cooler if they covered our songs!" Nielsen laughs). Kurt Cobain once described Nirvana as Cheap Trick with louder guitars.

More recently, the band provided the theme song to That '70s Show (with a tune based on Big Star's "In the Street") and made a cameo in the Eddie Murphy comedy Daddy Day Care. Many of their earlier records will be rereleased with bonus material next year.

On Cheap Trick's last swing through Houston a couple of years ago, they were grafted onto a heavy rock bill for 93.7 FM's ArrowFest that featured Lynyrd Skynyrd, Deep Purple, Ted Nugent and Nazareth. At least one front-row punter at the Woodlands Pavilion didn't care for the group, and his vocal disapproval led to Carlos's jumping off his drum kit with surprising speed and anger to ream him out, and Nielsen denouncing the "asshole" from the stage.

Nielsen "vaguely" remembers the incident today, and jokingly notes that Carlos will sometimes jump off the drum riser and start fights Nielsen has to finish. But the band won't tolerate hecklers, and Nielsen jokes that he's not above stirring up a lynch mob. "If you don't like the band, fine, go get a beer. But we have enough people who come to see us that we can mobilize them against anyone," he laughs. "Sort of like 'Go get him!' "

As longtime fans of the band know, Nielsen loves weird guitars, as does a certain famous Houstonian. "I come up with ideas and get somebody goofy to make them," he says. (These bizarre guitars can be viewed at www.cheaptrick. com/guitars1.html.) "You're in Houston, and I'm a big Billy Gibbons fan. He's a collector, too." Interestingly, the five-necked guitar was originally to be a six-necked monstrosity that "spun like a roulette wheel," until Nielsen thought better. "Hey, I'm glad it's only five. That thing is heavy enough already!"

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