One of the things I really enjoy about seeing bands that have been around for a number of years is watching how they’ve progressed in putting on a concert. It’s an art form that most new bands haven’t yet mastered, and some never do. That’s why I was so excited to see CHEAP TRICK play in Dallas on November 7. The Bomb Factory is such a great venue for a concert, holds 4,800, yet still keeps an intimate feel to it. The sold out crowd embraced that closeness to the band as they played their 20-song set which included all their hits, a couple of excellent cover songs and some deep cuts from their first few albums that we haven’t heard in years. It’s difficult to pick out only 20 songs from a 35-year career. They chose some great songs, though, and had had something for everyone, from the casual listener to the hardcore fan.
After The Bomb Factory staff, especially Cheryl Lynch with the beautiful smile, took care of me and the late-arriving crowd, AMERICAN MUSE came out to start the night. They set the tone with several rock songs and really kicked it with their last two songs of the set. We didn’t have to wait long as a lovely voice came over the loudspeaker and introduced, “The best fucking rock and roll band you’ve ever seen – CHEAP TRICK!” The band filed out, Rick Nielsen in his trademark baseball cap and Robin Zander in all white, including a white pimp hat, and began the show with “Hello There.” Nielsen started out standing in one place, but by the third note he was hopping around the stage and throwing picks into the audience.
They segued straight into “Big Eyes” and continued to show the youngsters how to rock. The three older members (Robin, Rick and bassist Tom Petersson) and drummer Daxx Nielsen (Rick’s son) looked to be in great shape and Zander’s voice was as full as it was when they recorded Cheap Trick At Budokan in 1978. A light show then showered the band and crowd when Robin grabbed the mic and wandered the stage before singing “Hot Love.”
This song emphasized Petersson playing an aggressive bass, adding immensely to the rich, full sound everyone came to hear. “Lookout” was next and the band moved to the side to highlight Daxx having the time of his life playing drums.
He was smiling like a sailor on Fleet Day at the thought of playing drums with his father for one of the seminal rock and roll bands of the past 35 years. Nielsen then changed guitars, as he does with every song, and brought out the box guitar that looked like the bottom half of SpongeBob SquarePants for “California Man.” Robin may have been the singer, but this was Rick’s time to shine in front. He posed, he vamped, he shimmied and shook, and we ate it up. And the dessert was the obligatory “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” with the crowd, which caused the children in the audience to let loose and have fun.
Zander began roaming the stage again as the band launched into “On Top Of The World,” one of my favorite non-hits. I wondered if he could still hit the high notes and he did it with ease, while the guitar and bass solos had us all shaking. In the perfect spot in the setlist was “He’s A Whore,” their salute to horndogs all over the world. Rick then brought out the double-neck, 12-string guitar for “Southern Girls” and wailed on it. All eyes were on him for this song and “Stiff Competition,” the next song. Not to be outdone, Robin took off his jacket to reveal a white muscle shirt and I saw a couple of women sit back down and cross their legs as their eyes rolled back in their heads. “Need Your Love” was an excellent jam song for Rick and Tom, and Daxx flailed away with his ever-present smile. Nielsen did his Superman pose while Zander came to our side of the stage and toasted us with a beverage of some sort. As if that weren’t enough, one of the members of AMERICAN MUSE came out of the stage door entrance wearing a coonskin cap.
Petersson played a great opening bass solo to “Daddy Should Have Stayed In School” as Robin shouted, “Here’s another love song for y’all.” They changed directions with the dark “Heaven Tonight,” with its almost Phantom of the Opera vibe to it. An eerie guitar solo punctuated the song, but they quickly switched again with a masterful version of “Magical Mystery Tour,” by THE BEATLES. Robin’s voice fit the song absolutely perfectly and that jump-started everyone.
Another cover song, THE VELVET UNDERGROUND‘s “Waitin’ For The Man,” was next and it was a pleasure to hear this. Petersson’s voice sounded a little like a live weasel going through a sausage press, but that was what was required of this song.
Then, the ladies started swooning when the first few notes of “The Flame” were played. Couples danced in the aisles and a group of guys acted like they were on the lip sync reality show while everyone else sand. Every camera in the crowd came out to record “I Want You To Want Me,” which is still required by law to play on classic rock stations twice a day. The last three times I’ve seen them in concert, they stuck this song right in the middle of the set and skimmed over it, but they really seemed to enjoy playing it this time and it showed.
A roadie brought out a sparkly jacket to put around Zander’s shoulders, James Brown style, as they jammed like big dogs to finish the set with “Dream Police.” The band members got to perform terrific solos and Nielsen threw out handfuls of guitar picks to the audience.
They thanked us and ran offstage while we raised the decibel level yelling for an encore. We didn’t have to wait long as they came back out with two members of AMERICAN MUSE to sing “Bang Zoom Crazy Hello”. The upbeat rock and roll was just fun to be around and the two guys from the opening act were loving every minute of it. What a thrill to be able to sing on stage with CHEAP TRICK in concert.
Next was an extended version of “Surrender” that tore down the house. It was a raucous time when the crowd took over singing, “Mommy’s alright, Daddy’s alright,” and about 20 repetitions of “We’re all alright, We’re all alright!” All four band members were smiling at each other as they knew how much enjoyment they’d brought, and how much fun they’d had.
A CHEAP TRICK concert isn’t over, though, until Rick Nielsen brings out that bad mother five-neck guitar, which he did for “Goodnight.” It was a fitting end to a fabulous show, one I won’t soon forget. All concerts are unique to some degree, but this one was special as they didn’t have an album to promote and could play whatever they wanted. The casual fans got their hits and the hardcore fans got their deep cuts. There were even a couple of songs I didn’t know, but I loved them. The two cover songs were excellent. I think it’s essential for bands, even ones as well-known as CHEAP TRICK, to pay homage to the people who paved the way before them.
Even some of the best bands just pick out the hits and a few B-sides and play them, not taking into account the ebb and flow of the music. It’s still great when they do that, but putting together a concert is like editing a movie. They get the audience involved, keep you wanting more, and when you leave, you feel as if you’ve been a part of something. I hope to see CHEAP TRICK do that many more times in the future!
LIVE WORDS: DAVID SIMERS
LIVE PHOTOS: GUZPIX