Veteran rockers Cheap Trick recently brought their rollicking and relentless concert presentation to the stage of the Montgomery Performing Arts Center. The band originally germinated in Rockford, Illinois in the early ’70s and has occupied a unique niche in the pantheon of American rock music for decades.
Their breakout album was a live 1979 release recorded at the Budokan in Tokyo. Not long afterwards, the advent of MTV enabled the band to exploit its already-in-place visual aesthetic. There was lead guitarist Rick Nielsen’s Huntz Hall goofball aesthetic and exuberant stage presence, Robin Zander front and center as the heartthrob singer, Bun E. Carlos on drums (sporting an overworked bookkeeper look) and bassist Tom Petersson anchoring the beat with unique instruments that he had designed.
Cheap Trick briefly had another lead singer when the band formed, but Zander soon came onboard. Petersson departed the band for a few years but returned, and the drummer’s slot is now being ably occupied by Nielsen’s son Daxx. That isn’t much turnover for over four and a half decades of existence. So that’s to the band’s credit.
Earlier hits for the band included anthems like “I Want You To Want Me,” “Surrender” and “Dream Police” as well as a slam-bang cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame.” When so-called “power ballads” (slow-but-loud songs) came into vogue in the late ’80s, the band charted with “The Flame” in 1988. A dynamite version of “Don’t Be Cruel” reached No. 4 on the charts that same year.
Even as platinum and gold sales of albums waned, Cheap Trick continued to record and tour in the ensuing decades, and its efforts were still appreciated by its legions of fans. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.
And what needs to be recognized about the band is the offstage professionalism that is behind concert presentations such the MPAC show. For all of the full-throttle fun onstage, the technicians and other tour personnel also do their out-of-sight assignments in a laudable manner. To wit:
My family got to participate in the Meet & Greet session before the Montgomery show. Nielsen and Petersson are among the preeminent guitar collectors in the world, so it was a surprising and much-appreciated gesture on their part when they took us on a quick, private tour of their backstage instrument stations, each manned by a pro technician.
Nielsen has rightfully pointed out the differences between “collecting” and “hoarding” when it comes to guitars. He plays a different instrument on every song, so his tech stays busy. Some of Rick’s tools of the trade are incredibly rare and valuable, but the veteran guitarist insists that they were made to be played, and he purveys such guitars because of their appropriate sound. Among the custom-made guitars he purveys is an instrument with five necks on it.
Petersson is known as the inventor of the twelve-string bass, and he played his latest variant exclusively at the MPAC. Most electric basses for four low-end strings, but Petersson’s creations also have two matching strings tuned to “guitar range” for each bass string, so it sounds like a bass and a twelve-string guitar at the same time.
Zander and his son Robin Taylor Zander also played some classic guitars (the younger Zander also sang backing vocals).
As for the backstage guitar tour, I didn’t have much to say about the instruments, on accounta it’s hard to converse when your mandible has abruptly dropped to the floor.
The demographic of the audience seemed to consist of folks who came of age in the Eighties. The music was well-crafted and consisted primarily of sing-along hits, which was, of course, appreciated by the band’s longtime fans.
I recently read an article that referred to Cheap Trick as a “legacy band.” Presumably that term has something to do with second-generation players (Daxx Nielsen and Robin Taylor Zander), and the concept has also been seen with bands like the Ventures, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the Greg Kihn Band.
The point is, nobody’s getting any younger, and if other aggregations start bringing in scions, I hope the music will be as well-presented as what Cheap Trick is purveying these days. Those guys and their backstage associates are pros.