Back in 2011, Cheap Trick were on the bill for Download Festival. It was my partner’s first festival, and I told her they were a band we had to see. Great songs, energetic stage presence, cool guitars… what else could you want? The band introduced themselves as a “new band from the USA”, and had said they were looking to re-energise their UK presence, but then it all fell a bit flat. The set had all the songs I wanted, but the energy wasn’t there. Guitarist Rick Nielsen seemed to spend most of the time playing to the industry VIPs at the side and rear of the stage, and didn’t really address the audience. After a few songs, my partner wandered off to find something else as I waited for the catchy hits and cool guitars. I got them, but it wasn’t the festival highlight I had hoped for. Fast forward to a warm June night, and I am outside the O2 academy, waiting for the rare opportunity to give them a second chance on the last night of a three night UK tour before they head back to the States. I really wanted to see the band I know they can be, but maybe the magic had gone.
Up first, were one of the UK’s great hopes on the rock scene, Stone Broken. The Walsall quartet are playing the game millenial style. A huge social media presence keeps them in the public eye, and many in the queue were actually there to see them rather than the headliners. As soon as they erupted into action, it was clear to see why they are so well thought of. Most of the set was based around their first album “All In Time” (at one point they thanked an audience member for letting them live in their house whilst they recorded it), with one song, “Doesn’t Matter” as a taster of the album that is on it’s way. On stage, they have everything you want to see. Glorious vocals and a cheeky, media friendly smile from Rich Moss, serious musicianship from guitarist Chris Davis and Bassist Kieron Conroy and powerful drumming from Robyn Haycock. We only got six songs, which was a shame, as by the time we had left the photo pit and given ourselves the chance to really enjoy the music it was over, but the future is incredibly bright.
On to Cheap Trick then… I think it can fairly be said that this is a unique band. In three gigs across the UK, they played a totally different set at every gig. This isn’t a band rehashing old favourites in a ‘best of’ set. This is a band bringing forgotten old rarities out of the locker, dusting them off, and then hiding them away again. I would say that in three, twenty song sets, they played over forty different songs, some that they announced they were playing for the first time, and would never play again! This was the Cheap Trick I had hoped for the first time. Introduced as the “worlds greatest rock and roll band“, tonight they wanted to prove that.
Vocalist Robin Zander, now in his sixties, seems to have a different voice for every song. Sometimes he is John Lydon, sometimes Roy Orbison. It is incredibly flexible, not so much in range, as in tone, which is decidedly unusual, and gives their song writing huge variation. One song you are listening to a punk band, the next, cheesy pop, then some metal or chugging guitar riffs, and then deceptively simple rock and roll. Rick Nielsen is the front man and guitarist and is everywhere. He stalks the stage with an immense variety of guitars, even handing a member of the audience a twin neck custom cartoon variant to look after (security soon helping her return it). He has a superb rapport with the audience, cracking jokes and encouraging heckles so that he can return them with spin. On the other side of the stage is the more reclusive Tom Petersson who, for most of the set, is content to stay back and not hog Nielsen’s limelight. That all changes for his bass solo. Played on a 12 string bass (utter guitar porn) it is a thing of atonal beauty. Haunting and harmonic, it is unlike any bass solo I have ever heard and utterly mesmerised me. At the back is Nielsen junior, Daxx, ably replacing Bun E. Carlos with some driving rhythm.
The setlist bounces around all over the place. We get new songs from the album “We’re All Right” (number 1 in the rock chart in the States, Nielsen informs us). We get songs that were hits all over the world (“Dream Police”, “I Want You To Want Me”, “Surrender”) and you realise just how widely they have influenced the music scene. We get a song that Nielsen gleefully informs us “did shit, but we like it anyway”, “You Got it Going On”, and we get covers of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man”, The Plastic Ono Band’s “Cold Turkey”, and as an encore, a sensational version of The Move’s “Blackberry Way” that was dedicated to Roy Wood.
This was what I wanted to see and hear. A band that are in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, playing an entire generation of back catalogue whilst having a great time. Faith restored!
Review and images – Rob Wilkins