It’s not often that a cool front comes through Dallas in the middle of August. It’s even more uncommon for Rock and Roll Hall of Famers to tour together without raising ticket prices through the roof. It all happened last week, though, and fans packed into Gexa Energy Pavilion to see the rare occurrence. It was an early start on a weekday, it had rained during the day and more rain was forecast, and the traffic was not kind to the drivers, but the crowd steadily filed in. The eclectic audience wore work clothes, T-shirts from the 70’s and everything in between.
None could match the sartorial splendor of Robin Zander, though, as he led CHEAP TRICK onto the stage decked out in a Buffalo Skinner top hat all the way down to his “a Dingo ate your baby” rock and roll boots. After their usual introduction of a woman’s sultry voice saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, please welcome to the stage the best fucking rock and roll band in the world!” they launched into “Hello There.” Guitarist Rick Nielsen began wandering across the stage on the second note and never quit moving all night.
They moved right into “Big Eyes” with many ladies in the crowd dancing suggestively (and one caloric-challenged man who did, but shouldn’t have). Robin sang from the middle of the stage and had the loom of a rock star, enjoying all the adulation, while Rick turned guitar pick flipping into an art form. Everyone in the first ten rows had ample opportunity to be on the receiving end of one of his picks.
The crowd had now filled in completely as Nielsen grabbed his Spongebob Squarepants-looking box guitar for “California Man.” Bassist Tom Petersson even moved around more than usual, obviously enjoying the coolness of the evening. Rick changed guitars, as is his custom, for “Lookout.”
His entrancing solo was the highlight of this song off the Cheap Trick At Budokan album. In an unprecedented move, he played the same axe twice in a row for “The House Is Rockin’.”
Saying they’re too young to quit making new records, they played “No Direction Home” from Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello, their latest album. In a bet that Las Vegas took off the boards, Rick played the same guitar for a third straight song. Robin used the entire stage for “Baby Loves To Rock.”
He then grabbed an acoustic guitar and moved to the side to give Tom the spotlight to lead a jam after singing “I’m Waiting For The Man.” Tom’s voice fit the song perfectly as rough and gravelly is what was required to make the song memorable.
Women began to swoon as soon as “The Flame” started. Robin’s pure voice makes this a classic love song and the couple behind me said that at home, after the the show, it would be their love-making song. Without a reduction in decibel level, the crowd went apeshit for “I Want You To Want me.” It’s a local statute in most cities that classic rock stations must play it at least twice a day, so the crowd knew every word and sang along at the tops of their lungs.
Fan favorite “Dream Police” was next, and then somehow, the fans got even louder when singing, “We’re all alright!” the pivotal moment during “Surrender,” another classic rock staple.
Rick then brought out the five-neck Hamer for “Goodnight.” His son, Daxx, had a blast pounding the drums for the long jam that finished out their set.
The crowd was still pumped from all the great music as HEART came out to a darkened stage. Both Wilson sisters were dressed to kill. With no introduction, they began their set with “Wild Child.” Nancy’s guitar solo and Ann’s remarkable voice were engaging and they interacted well with the crowd.
A mystic theme began playing on the video screen behind them as the crowd sang along to “Magic Man.” Craig Bartok led a jam after his guitar solo that caused Ann to dance a little jig. She then walked down a center-aisle walkway and obviously enjoyed singing “What About Love.”
Harmony was the key ingredient as Dan Rothchild joined Craig and the sisters to form a four-person front on “Bebe Le Strange.” Nancy then took the lead on vocals for the beautiful “These Dreams.” Ann on acoustic and Nancy on mandolin formed a formidable pair while images of brain synapses on the screen added an ethereal quality.
Another beautiful song by Nancy was a cover of Ne-Yo’s “Two.” It was an atypical non-rock song, but it let Nancy explore the full range of her voice. It was one of many highlights. The changes continued as the band played “Get Up Offa That Thing” by James Brown. Ann had fun while turning her back to the crowd and shaking that “groove thang” to everyone’s delight. Nancy danced, too, as it segued into “Straight On,” but still with a funky beat.
A wave of energy swept over the crowd as the guitar solos were bookends to Ann’s pitch perfect voice on “Kick It Out.” Again, her engaging personality was a delight for all to see. “Beautiful Broken,” the title track from their new album, showed that hard-charging rock and roll is still alive and kicking.
It will add to the 35 million albums they’ve already sold. Nancy was kicking it, too, as she was jumping around to match her sister’s energy. Nobody sings a ballad better and Ann proved it on “Alone.” Chris Joyner provided a tingling keyboard intro, Nancy went acoustic and Ann’s voice was indeed a finely-tuned instrument. Nancy kept the acoustic going with a solo intro and thrilled the audience with her first leg kick of the night on “Crazy On You.” The crowd, following my lead, went ballistic when she made her signature move.
The last song of the set was “Barracuda” and they went out with a bang. Nancy and Craig had a guitar duel, then a pick-flicking duel, and then joined in a fantastic ending jam with drummer Ben Smith. That would have been a great concert, but there was more to come.
HEART‘s encores have always been a tribute to LED ZEPPELIN and tonight was one of their best. Viking ships on the screen and Nancy dancing joyously onstage was a perfect accompaniment to “Immigrant Song.” It was met with deafening applause. Nancy then began an acoustic solo before the first notes of “Stairway To Heaven.” Ann’s vocals hit every note perfectly and Craig imitated Jimmy Page to a tee in one of the best closing songs ever. The crowd screamed and clapped as the band took a bow.
From the outside the combination of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers might have seemed like an odd pairing as fans had their favorites. But no matter who they preferred, the people were thrilled with the one they came to see and extremely appreciative of the other. The fans were the winners as they got to enjoy a night of great music from everyone.
CHEAP TRICK always delivers as they have mastered the art of putting together an outstanding show. They play their hits, a couple of new songs and a couple of deep cuts for the hardcore fan. It’s only one of the reasons why they tour constantly and have sold over 20 million albums.
HEART always brings their A-Game. Their set covered the gamut of their 16 studio albums. It could have easily been a greatest hits concert as they have more hits than time available to play them. The fans also enjoyed seeing Ann Wilson enjoying herself more than she has in years. If these two groups have anything to say about it, rock and roll will never die!
LIVE IMAGES: GUZPIX
LIVE WORDS: DAVID SIMERS