We have a salutation down here in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, “Hail Rex.” It’s because Rex is THE MAN, he reigns over the festival season therefore his appearance is awaited with high anticipation. The same can be said about the band Cheap Trick, because when Cheap Trick comes to town, you know a good time will surely follow and you can’t wait to get to the venue, to stand in line, to hear those opening chords and get the party started.
For some bands, it’s been a hard road trying to keep their music from falling into classic rock oblivion. Cheap Trick has certainly had their fair share of low record sales and harsh critics. But they have persevered and have ended up on the greener side of the fence, getting better as they have aged, keeping their past songs lively and memorable while putting out newer material that still appeals – this spring’s “The Summer Looks Good On You” from an upcoming album of new material is a good example and they performed it with such vivacity at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans this past Saturday night [July 21, 2018] that it may end up on their setlist permanently.
So why do we continue to go see a band that released it’s first album back in 1977? Here are a few reasons.
Things You Can Always Count On At A Cheap Trick Concert
The Songs: The night definitely belonged to their biggest hits. When those opening notes of “Surrender,” “Dream Police,” “Ain’t That A Shame” and “I Want You To Want Me” kicked in, well, that was it, the fans were a mass of overjoyed kids, no matter what their real ages happened to be. And when Robin Zander stepped into a spotlight centerstage to sing “The Flame,” cell phones lit up, swaying to the melody. If any of these songs ever fell off the setlist, fans may riot.
The Guitars: When it comes to guitars, Rick Nielsen definitely has the quirkiest collection and he loves to bring them out, show them off and encourage the well-deserved love and affection just the sight of them can bring. Along with a couple classic Les Pauls and the Jeff Beck Esquire, there was a variety of Hamers: “Uncle Dick,” “Gonna Raise Hell,” the sparkly gold one, the square one with a cartoon drawing of the band, the Beatles Sgt Pepper faces one, the checkerboard one and of course, the monster 5-neck which comes out at the very end.
The Rhythm Section: There are not many bass players like Tom Petersson. The man can make that 12-string bass hum, moan, growl and rumble, all without ever losing the integrity of the song. He is so humble, he just stands back, smiles and enjoys every moment he is onstage. Daxx Nielsen is now as much a part of Cheap Trick as Bun E. Carlos ever was. The offspring of Rick gives the songs a harder punch with his drumming and when he is on a roll – as on “Baby Loves To Rock” and “I Want You To Want Me” – he is just a rhythmic rollercoaster. Add to the mix Zander’s son, Robin Jr, who adds an extra oomph on guitar. He might hang to the shadows but his contribution is a welcomed asset, adding a little more meat onto the songs.
Seats: Forget about them. You’ll never sit down once. Eighteen fun, energetic songs will have you on your feet the whole time.
Special Highlights Of The Night:“I’m Waiting For The Man”: Petersson’s spotlight belonged to his bass intro that led into his lead vocals on the Velvet Underground’s 1967 track from their self-titled album with Nico. This man just knows how to seduce those sounds out of his bass and his vocals gave the song a textured soul.
“Baby Loves To Rock”: Daxx’s drum solo into his father’s guitar solo was pure raunchy crunch.
1982: Nielsen recalled playing the Saenger Theatre back in 1982, which may have also been the last time he had been at this venue. 1982 was an especially wobbly time for the band. Petersson had left in 1980 and his replacement, Pete Comita, was replaced by Jon Brant. Their album, One On One, was panned by critics, Rolling Stone writer Dave Marsh proclaiming there was “Little magic in Cheap Trick these days;” as were some of the shows (a Baton Rouge critic spent more time complaining about how loud the sound was, blaming Nielsen for his loud rumblings on guitar, drowning out everything else). But 1982 may have only been a hiccup in their career and by 1988 Petersson had returned and they were sitting high on the charts once again with the #1 charting song, “The Flame.”
Supagroup Opening: A popular New Orleans based band that are loaded up with fast guitar, a pounding rhythm, fun vocals and just great energy, Supagroup brought out the heavy with eight songs. Benji Lee knows how to fly his fingers down a fretboard while making great “guitar face,” while brother Chris can whip any crowd into a good-time frenzy with his vocals and appealing rapport. Here’s hoping they’ll be adding more shows over these hot summer nights.
“He’s A Whore”: A punk-inflected, Rick Nielsen-penned track from the band’s 1977 debut album was brought out by special request, according to Zander. One of the most fun songs of the evening.
Sean Yseult: Former White Zombie bassist Sean Yseult, who makes her home in New Orleans, was called onstage to sing backup on “Surrender.” Old friends, her presence was a fun addition to the camaraderie onstage, everyone laughing, joking, just having a ball – which filtered into the actual presentation of the song. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it sound this free and without any inhibitions. Just goes to show that favorite songs can still have new surprises.
And this is exactly why Cheap Trick is even more popular today than they ever have been. And better.
SETLIST: Hello There, Big Eyes, Hot Love, You Got It Going On, California Man, Never Had A Lot To Lose, Baby Loves To Rock, Ain’t That A Shame, The Summer Looks Good On You, I’m Waiting For The Man, The Flame, I Want You To Want Me, Dream Police, Surrender, He’s A Whore, Auf Wiedersehen & Goodnight Now.