Cheap Trick’s been rocking and rolling for over forty years now. And if their performance last night (June 12) at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio is any barometer, they won’t be letting up any time soon.
Indeed, We’re All Right! is the name of the Rockford, Illinois ensemble’s last studio album.
Singer Robin Zander, bassist Tom Petersson, and guitarist Rick Nielsen played a couple tunes from that record—including “Long Time Coming” and “You’ve Got It Going On”—but mostly stuck to their ‘70s and ‘80s hits.
Which delighted fans crowding the pavilion and relaxing on the lawn.
Here are five reasons why you should check out Cheap Trick this summer at a stadium or shed new you.
1. Yes, they play the hits…but they’ll bust out their brand-new single, too.
Cheap Trick gained a foothold in the music biz after winning over Japan in the mid-1970s. It was a live album recorded there—At Budokan—that sold the group on American audiences back home. They have been cranking out the hits in concert ever since, but they also continue to record new albums, too: Cheap Trick (1997), Special One (2003), Rockford (2006), The Latest (2009), and Bang Zoom Crazy…Hello (2016) all helped further the band’s legacy when the guys could’ve coasted on past efforts, as so many of their peers have done. And last night Zander and co. premiered an even newer new song, “The Summer Looks Good On You,” released last month as a digital single.
2. Rick Nielsen is still a character.
Even those unfamiliar with Cheap Trick’s music—or those unable to work out that they’re the “Surrender” guys—have seen pictures of nerdy Nielsen with his checkered outfit and accessories (earpiece, guitar strap, etc.), his ever-present ball cap, and his monstrous, multi-necked guitars. Nielsen still loves his checks (even his Orange amplifier had been given a checkered makeover)…and he still flicks souvenir guitar pics into the audience like pieces of Halloween candy. It’s all part of the Trick shtick.
3. Tom Petersson is sensational.
Rock history may never regard Petersson as a virtuoso bassist on par with Geddy Lee (Rush), Chris Squire (Yes), or John Entwistle (The Who). But that’s only because Petersson has carved out a different kind of niche for himself as his group’s anchorman. Rather than thrum or thump ostinato on a four-string bass (or pop and slap like a funk bassist) he plucks rhythms and melodies on a custom twelve-stringed Gretsch. The technique allows Tom to sound like a second guitarist when he needs to while letting him do the traditional bass thing and hold down the bottom end. Or do both at once. He had a little solo in the middle of the set, which segued into the band’s take on the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man”—which Tom sang.
4. Cheap Trick is a family affair.
Drummer Bun E. Carlos retired almost a decade ago. Since then, Nielsen’s son Daxx has occupied the Cheap Trick drum riser. The “kid” (probably in his 40s) was killer last night in Cuyahoga, keeping tempo and punctuating “Hot Love” and “Dream Police” with dynamic percussion while pops and the snazzily-dressed Petersson contributed chords and melodies.
“Daxx is the boss now!” quipped Zander.
5. Zander is still one of rock’s best vocalists.
He’s still the blonde one in the band, and his pipes can still make Robert Plant green with envy. He’s Robin Zander (ringmaster in the top hat and “Smile” T-shirt), who sounded amazing on “Big Eyes,” “Never Had a Lot to Lose,” and signature smash “I Want You to Want Me.” Of course, there was obligatory Lap of Luxury (1988) ballad “The Flame” to drive female fans berserk (with Zander on acoustic guitar), while “Surrender” (from 1978’s Heaven Tonight) secured the link to the past (with Pop Evil’s Dave Grahs joining Nielsen on guitar). And just when you thought Zander would play it safe and stay mid-range, he’d go high—hitting the operatic notes we all remember from the records.
The 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Famers shared the Blossom bill with ‘80s hair metal mavens Poison and ‘00s hard-rockers Pop Evil. Poison closed the show, but Cheap Trick performed at least as many songs—and did so with an energy that suggested they should’ve been the headliner. People of all ages know these tunes, even if they don’t realize they’re Trick tunes or remember where or when they heard them. It was amusing (and satisfying, in a “The kids are alright” sort of way) to watch Blossom’s twenty-something ushers and beverage girls dance and sing along upon recognizing “Surrender” and “I Want You…”.
When the hired help are into the show as much as the paid ticket-holders, you know it’s not just another night at the shed. And not even the passing drizzle (and the woodsy steaminess that lingered thereafter) could dampen anyone’s spirits.