To paraphrase that “great sage” and purveyor of musical wisdom Forrest Gump, a live show is like a box of chocolates – you just never know what you’re gonna get. At least with some bands.
For Cheap Trick on the other hand, a matchless, energetic show is a given – it’s in the bag, so to speak. But – you just have to be sure to take along a little something else in the bag – namely, a terrific set of earplugs.
So when I went digging for my trusty pair in their customary location at last week’s Cheap Trick gig at the Pima County Fair – and came up empty – I broke out into a cold sweat and developed a sudden case of the shakes, as I contemplated the certain impending aural bombardment.
You see, that Cheap Trick show in the mid-‘80s still holds the Tucson Concerts Examiner record for loudest concert ever. I haven’t been able to hear certain bird species since then.
Thankfully, the Rockford rockers reined in the amps just a bit – or maybe middle-aged hearing loss just made it seem so. And uh, it might have helped that a security guard (read “boy scout”) “loaned” me his spare pair.
And while the decibel level may have diminished, Cheap Trick’s music hasn’t. The band sounded even better than they did in their “big hair” heyday.
The fantastic foursome made an emphatic musical declaration with their quartet of opening songs. With Tom Petersson’s skillful 12-string bass work on “Hello There,” Robin Zander’s plaintive vocals on “Big Eyes,” Rick Nielsen’s unparalleled guitar solo on “California Man,” and Daxx Nielsen’s (Rick’s son) furious drumming on “Lookout,” the band dubbed the “American Beatles” by the Japanese press laid down the musical law.
The younger Nielsen played the percussive metronome on “Ain’t That A Shame,” kicking the tune off with an outstanding intro solo as Petersson, Zander and the elder Nielsen followed with layers of dexterous musicianship.
You have to wonder if Nielsen practices riffs on an air guitar while he sleeps, such is his prowess on the fretboards. His work on “That 70s Song” and “Ballad of TV Violence” was incomparable.
And outside of Junior Walker’s sax solo on Foreigner’s “Urgent” and Billy Preston’s piano run on The Beatles’ “Get Back,” his soaring guitar licks on “The Flame” are one of the most recognizable musical interludes in recorded music.
He also played the cheerleader for Petersson as the bassist played an incredible bass intro solo to begin “I Know What I Want.”
Zander turned back the clock with his strong vocals throughout the night, ranging from the mournfulness of “Heaven Tonight” to the liveliness of “Surrender.” He was “The King” of the stage on Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” occasionally pausing for the crowd to catch up with him.
With another fantastic live performance, Cheap Trick proved once again that whether in front of 100 thousand fans, a thousand fans, or ten fans, they come to play.
Here’s the complete set list:
Ain’t That A Shame
That 70s Song
Ballad of TV Violence
I Know What I Want
I Want You To Want Me
Don’t Be Cruel
Sick Man Of Europe
Closer – The Ballad of Burt and Linda