Of all the bands I have written about since I started doing this little writing gig, this was one of the most anticipated. Not because I am some huge fan (I have seen them about a dozen times since 1979) or because this was some monstrous comeback CD, but because no matter when I have seen Cheap Trick they have always rocked the house. Whether they were doing classic rockers or 80's ballads this band always put on a show. Tonight was no exception. I know I always rave about shows at the Northern Lights Theater, but people let's be real, a cabaret style 500 seat theater is simply a great place to see any show. It's intimate without being confining and acoustically excellent no matter where you find yourself sitting.
The band took the stage about 15 minutes late and immediately started making up for lost time. With a shout out from the announcer "Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest fucking band in the world&.Cheap Trick!" we were off and runnin'. Now I don't know about the greatest, but they are definitely a great act to see live. As they rocked into the opening number I noticed two things immediately. First was that their sound was definitely off. It was like the sound man was having problems matching the power of the instruments with the power of Robin Zander's voice. It took a few minutes to get it worked out, but by the end of the song things were sounding much better. The second thing I noticed was that the song itself seemed forced. Maybe it was me, maybe it was the band a bit worn down (Rick Nielsen did mention he had a touch of laryngitis between songs) but it sounded like they were pushing. With over 30 years of hard rockin and more times around the globe then most astronauts I can't really fault the guys for losing a little juice.
They stayed on course, rocking out with 70's rockers like "Big Eyes" as well as newer hits like "Welcome to the World" of their "Rock Ford" CD. In between songs they joked and chatted up the audience, especially the people in the first tier of tables. They seemed to know virtually everyone who was up close to the stage. It made for a very personal experience rather than just another show. Even Larry David of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" was there&Rick made sure to point him out several times. The band continued on, playing the best of the best, including "If You Want My Love" (which featured excellent harmonies by Nielsen, laryngitis or not) "Best Friend" and of course "I Want You, to Want Me". The music itself was seamless and timeless. Robin's vocals were exceptionally clear and tight and at time you could tell he had aged at all. The rest of the band rocked steady, although these days Bun doesn't have the dangling cigarette anymore and Tom Petersson's awesome 12 string bass isn't just the backbone of the songs.
The set came to a close all too soon with mega hits like "Voices", "The Flame" and "Surrender". The latter of which was so loud that we again lost the vocals under the crush of the music. All in all, a great way to end the show. But also a very short show to come to an end. I waited, thinking perhaps they were merely doing a two set performance like so many do at Northern Lights, but when they retook the stage I knew it was only for an encore. Talking it up with the audience Rick asked "Do you want some more?" and when cheers erupted he walked along the front edge of the stage collecting money from the friends the band had seated there. This brought raucous laughter from the whole room and slid us right into a powerhouse version of "Dream Police" complete with Rick's psychotic laughter and manic "voice inside your head' whispers. "So Long" was the final song of the night. It made a fitting statement, ending the show with as much power as it began. The show was by any standards far to short (only 1hour and 10 minutes including the encore) and didn't really give us the whole range of what this band can do. But, after thirty plus years of rockin these four guys from Rockford IL have learned the tricks of the trade. Great music, audience rapport and still remembering that this is rock & roll. Yes, they've gotten older and maybe some of the shine has worn off of Rick's multitude of guitars, but no one can ever take away the chemistry and talent these four have when they take the stage. They'll be out all summer, jammin' and playin' as hard as they ever have, check them out when they come to your neck of the woods (and pray for a longer show).
Classic to the core with a C+
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