With one of the great cult bands on a rare UK trek, Shaun Ponsonby finds Cheap Trick sounding as great as they ever did.
Cheap Trick are one of America’s greatest bands, but they never quite became as big as they should have.
Yet they influenced glam rock, punk, power pop, grunge and metal – loved by both Nikki Sixx and Kurt Cobain and they are a renowned live band.
Before they enter the stage, there is an extended intro featuring various Cheap Trick references in film and TV, from the theme to That 70’s Show, to Homer Simpson exclaiming “I prefer to listen to Cheap Trick”, culminating with a deadpan announcement “Please welcome to the stage the best fucking rock band you’ll ever see – Cheap Trick”.
And on they burst with 1980’s Just Got Back.
One thing is apparent straight away – vocalist Robin Zander sounds pretty much exactly as he did in 1977. Impressive for a non-stop touring band, there’s barely a fault in his delivery at all. He is probably one of the great rock & roll vocalists of his era. In his hands, the band’s most mediocre material, such as The Flame, a stock 80s power ballad that the band were for forced to record against their will (that they didn’t play tonight, but have on other tour stops), becomes a moving work of art.
Guitarist and principal songwriter Rick Neilson is still a scamp. In fact he probably beats AC/DC’s Angus Young. With Angus it feels like it’s all a gimmick, but there’s something about Nielson that feels genuine. Like he really is this geeky man-child at heart, his trademark baseball cap adorns his head as he mugs at the crowd from the stage.
The setlist plays like a dream. Old favourites like Clock Strike Ten give way seamlessly to deeper cuts such as the protopunk He’s a Whore. When you need to catch a breath, it’s time for the epic Need Your Love or If You Want My Love – that we are living in a world where the latter wasn’t a massive lighter-waving 80s anthem, but Poison’s Every Rose Has It’s Thorn or even their own aforementioned The Flame was, is a musical crime.
The end of the set saw the band racing through their best loved power pop war horses – each deserving of being bigger smashes; I Want You To Want Me, Dream Police, Surrender.
It became apparent at several points that part of Cheap Trick’s problem in commercial terms was that you can’t really define them. They don’t really fit comfortably into any box, which is probably best accounted for by the scope of their influence.
Despite this, the set fits comfortably together. Tracks from their two most recent albums often sound like they belong in their back catalogue. The crowd punched the air as much during new song Long Time Comin’ as they did to 1980’s Stop This Game.
Tonight confirmed what I have always thought; Cheap Trick should have been as big as Aerosmith.
Images courtesy of Sakura