Cheap Trick at Penn’s Peak, Jim Thorpe, PA, November 3, 2016,
Nov 15, 2016 Web Exclusive
Cheap Trick are the consummate performers. From the switching of guitars, each more ostentatious than the last, to the throwing handfuls of picks into the crowd at every turn, a Cheap Trick concert is always a spectacle. And this night in rural Jim Thorpe, PA was no different.
So often in the recent past, Cheap Trick has been featured as an opener or dual headliner, sharing stages with bands from Def Leppard and Poison to the likes of Peter Frampton and Aerosmith, and just last summer being featured on the Rock Hall Three For All tour with Heart and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Seeing them as a lone headliner on this night gave one the opportunity for a non-truncated set list and hopefully the chance to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band spread its wings and showcase all extents of its 40-plus year career
To that end, Cheap Trick satisfied to a mixed degree. They played all their hits, with vim and vigor to spare. Guitarist Rick Nielsen is a furious ball of energy still, bounding across the stage, switching instruments for every song, and flicking picks with pinpoint accuracy. Robin Zander sounds as good as ever, hitting the high notes on songs like the über-ballad "The Flame" with youthful tone and spirit. Bassist Tom Petersson still cuts a striking figure, fashionable in all black, Stetson hat, and scarf, playing bass lines that both anchor and facilitate the magnificent melodies that have always been Cheap Trick's signature. And drummer Daxx Nielsen, Rick's son, acquitted himself nicely for the longtime drummer Bun E. Carlos who exited the group under curious circumstances in 2010.
The headlining bill allowed the band to play some deeper cuts, such as the rollicking "Baby Loves to Rock," from 1980's All Shook Up, and "Borderline," from '83's Next Position Please. The latter was comically introduced, with Nielsen saying that the track was one that 10% of people in attendance had probably heard, from an album produced by Todd Rundgren. "No wonder nobody heard it," Nielsen quipped. Petersson took a lead vocal turn on a furious version of The Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for My Man." These excursions outside the typical Cheap Trick cannon were thrilling, spectacular examples of how terrific even some of the fringes of the band's catalog have been over the years.
But ultimately, at approximately 75 minutes, the set wasn't nearly long enough. For a band of Cheap Trick's caliber and with the cumulative strength of its recorded output, two hours, even if separated by an intermission, would have been easily warranted. The band played only one song from its terrific new album, Bang, Zoom, Crazy...Hello and none from any of the excellent albums its released since its late-'90s reemergence. For Cheap Trick purists, this is a crime. The band's new work is just as solid as its late '70s records, and even more so than much of its mid-80s work. To ignore it is criminal. Of course, with only 75 minutes, there was no choice. The hits needed to be played. And they were played marvelously. Rockers likes "Big Eyes," "California Man," and "Ain't That a Shame" were rendered with as much fire as ever. And pop tunes like "The Flame" and "She's Tight" were as affecting as they have always been.
But leaving the venue at the very un-rock and roll time of 9:25 PM, one couldn't help but be a little bit disappointed. Not for anything that Cheap Trick was on this night-the band was brilliant-but rather for all the things they didn't have time to be. (www.cheaptrick.com)
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