Cheap Trick Are Classic in the Best Possible Way

Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander, shrugging off another snub by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander, shrugging off another snub by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Photos by Jack Gorman

Cheap Trick House of Blues December 17, 2014

In rock and roll, as in most genres of popular music, there are benefits that come with youth. You have more energy, odds are good you haven't hit your creative peak yet and, if you're lucky, you haven't been in the world long enough to become completely cynical. There's something to be said about writing, recording and performing knowing you still have most of your life ahead of you.

But there's also something to be said for our rock and roll survivors, the road dogs who have put in decades doing this whole music thing we all know and love. Yeah, it's easy to pick on those bands limping through playing the Scout Bar/Concert Pub circuit, but if you can play and you've got the songs, why not do what you love?

And so we come to Cheap Trick, who can still play and who do have the songs and have been doing this whole rock and roll thing for four decades now. And somehow still have the energy to go out and put on a hell of a show.

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Robin Zander still has some impressive pipes. He is a classic among classic-rock front men, with all the moves that come with the job. Put a mike and mike stand in his hands and he'll use every inch of the stage to play to the audience. But the most amazing thing remains his voice, which sounds sharp and steady throughout the show.

Rick Nielsen plays guitar the same way that an old magician does his signature effects. When you know what you're doing front to back, it's easy for things to look effortless. It's more than just confidence in your abilities; it's knowing that these things just work. It frees him up to be a free spirit on stage, always in motion, always making a face of some kind, always playing to the crowd, always delivering on the solos.

Bassist Tom Petersson broke out some Lou Reed.
Bassist Tom Petersson broke out some Lou Reed.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the night was Tom Petersson's moment in the spotlight, when he took the lead vocals on a cover of Velvet Underground's "Waiting for the Man." For a band that was all fun and games for most of the show, they tackled this track they were all business. No running around, no funny business, just dedication to their craft.

Of course, their own songs killed too. "Hello There" probably ranks somewhere in the top 1 percent of concert openers of all time. "On Top of the World" and "Big Eyes" are songs that really shine in concert. "Dream Police" is even sillier and more delightful when sung with a big group of strangers and "Surrender" is still one of the best rock songs ever written.

Now sure, all these things mentioned in this review are things that have largely been true over the course of their career. Some bands are studio wizards and some bands thrive on the road. Cheap Trick fall in to the latter; At Budokan, so on and so forth, we all know the story.

Which is not to say that we should completely sleep on their musical output when it comes to considering their place in the greater canon of rock and roll.

Story continues on the next page.


How long must it take a roadie to attach all those picks to Rick Nielsen's mike stand?
How long must it take a roadie to attach all those picks to Rick Nielsen's mike stand?

If you're reading this, you probably know that the inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced earlier this week. There was stuff to smile about (SRV) and stuff to frown about (The Monkees are still due).

For the 12th year, Cheap Trick were snubbed by the Rock Hall, to the surprise of basically no one. They're certainly not the biggest snub; Dick Dale wrote "Misirlou" for fuck's sake and somehow the MC5 have been nominated a grand total of one time.

There's not enough time to get in to an in-depth discussion about why they should be in and why they may never get in, so here's the short version: when you write a song as good as "Surrender," you deserve a small spot in Cleveland as a reward.

But if you need further proof, just go see them live. They're still so good they'll turn you in to a believer. They play to the crowd, but not in a way that feels schlocky or cheap. It feels... classic.

There's something to be said about age and experience.

We're all all right! We're all all right!
We're all all right! We're all all right!

Personal Bias: A few years ago I was in Vegas on vacation, and having nothing scheduled my final night in town, on a whim I decided to see Cheap Trick cover Sgt. Pepper's. I went from being casually into the band into solid fan territory.

The Crowd: We're all all right! We're all all right!

Overheard In the Crowd: "The last time I paid for a general admission ticket it was $8," said the person behind me at the box office. Thems were the days.

Random Notebook Dump: What is Rick Nielsen's guitar-pick budget like? Man is generous with the way he hands them out.

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