CHEAP TRICK

Published on July 28th, 2017

CHEAP TRICK

Cheap Trick | by David McClister

Cheap Trick | by David McClister

Cheap Trick arrived in early 1977 as puzzle for audiences and marketers deciding what to make of this band. Visually, they were a summit of nerds and hipsters. Sonically, they were almost as odd, thrashing like The Tubes or New York Dolls on “He’s a Whore,” quoting the Beatles outright on “Taxman, Mr. Thief,” channeling the menace of “Clockwork Orange” with “Elo Kiddies,” or laying themselves bare with the heart-melting “Mandocello.”

Who were these guys from Rockford, Illinois, with their locker full of hooks, playful duality and grainy loveletter typewriter font logo? Eventually, the music business classified them as a boy’s idea of a rock band that girls would like, too. On Cheap Trick’s breakthrough 1979 album, At Budokan — a standout from the brief golden age of live recordings as hit records — the roar greeting frontman Robin Zander’s song introductions (“I want you … to want me.”) was audibly feminine.

The music itself — on Budokan and a clutch of studio albums released before and after — could be as lovestruck as anything by Fats Domino and Elvis Presley, both of whom the Cheap Trick covered. But they didn’t stop there, and didn’t condescend to their audience, male or female. Bow-tied guitarist and principal songwriter Rick Nielsen delved into darker corners. “Heaven Tonight” acknowledged and lamented the romantic allure of suicide. “Dream Police” was a paranoid’s tour-de-force. The narrator of “High Roller,” embodied by Zander’s beguiling mix of power and crooning, could have been a textbook sociopath — attractive and creepy.

And then there was “Surrender,” also made famous by At Budokan, and possibly the greatest rock song ever written about a generational divide.

Cheap Trick ebbed and then had a late-’80s resurgence with “The Flame,” the kind of outsourced, career-extending power ballad that helped the likes of Heart and Aerosmith make waves on MTV. But like those bands, Cheap Trick’s most durable work predates music television. They’re still at it, knocking out albums with three of four original band members, even as Nielsen cheerfully told Vice, “Nobody’s clamoring for a new Cheap Trick record.”

Cheap Trick performs with Foreigner and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, 7pm.  Tuesday, August 1, at Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach. Tickets at livenation.com
~ Sean Piccoli

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