There’s an argument to be made that Rockford, Illinois might be the spawning place for America’s best power pop band but then again that definition is as hard to get a grip on as a greased up eel. For me, Cheap Trick didn’t quite hit all the hallmarks of the form that bands like The Raspberries or Big Star did, and they were a bit more comfortable in the classic rock side of the room (though maybe they helped to create that corner, or at least decorate it).
The band was always a mix of good lookin’ dudes (Robin Zander, Tom Petersson) and dorks (Rick Nielsen and Bun E Carlos), each comfortable in that role and playing it up. The current lineup hasn’t had Carlos in it for a bit after a somewhat bitter lawsuit following his ouster, and recently Petersson has dropped out temporarily while he recovers from surgery, leaving the band as a true fathers and sons team. Nielsen’s son Daxx has been in the drummer seat since Carlos left/was pushed, and for this tour Zander’s son (also named Robin) took over the low end duties, even playing a version of Petersson’s signature 12 string bass guitar.
When you have a song named “Hello There” that exhorts the assembled to get ready to rock, it’s a pretty natural opener, and the re-purposed lyrics to “Goodnight” as first heard on the Live from Budokan record is the de facto end as well – bonus points to the band for also considering their German-speaking fans with the penultimate “Auf Wiederhesen.” What was tucked in between? Well, tons of hits! At least the ones you recognize from their early career, “Surrender”, “Dream Police,” “I Want You To Want Me,” their two well-known covers of “California Man” and “Ain’t That A Shame,” – all delivered with gusto and the crowd just eating it up like it’s 1980 again. Nielsen was on point, showcasing his still impressive skills especially on the cascading bit of the aforementioned Move cover, while also getting a chance to trot out a sliver of his insane guitar collection and shower the people in front of him with a variety of guitar picks.
The somewhat downside of a band hanging on for so long is that they have way more material that’s not from their sweet spot, when they captured lightning in a checkered bottle. Does it shock you to know they have twenty studio records? They did play a couple tracks from their just-released record, and “Boys & Girls & Rock N Roll” was a perfectly serviceable commercial rock song and Zander’s voice is still capable of belting out a strong chorus but it won’t make you forget Heaven Tonight. That title track and “Downed” with Zander Jr on lead vocals were the set highlights for me, the first a slow burner and the latter their best stab at Big Star greatness. In contrast, the next song was their best-selling one but “The Flame” just sounds like a half-baked prom theme to me. Thankfully, there are plenty of great moments from the band to satisfy more than one faction of their fanbase.