The term ‘cult act’ is widely used, but applies more than most to Cheap Trick, at least in the UK. In a distinguished career of over 40 years they only once troubled the top 40 singles charts, and yet their name is spoken of in revered terms, both by musicians, some of whom were name checked from the stage as being in attendance, and diehard fans.
As they embarked on what to my knowledge was a first UK appearance since Download 2011, the latter were out in force at a hot and sticky Forum, with the same crackling anticipation as at Blue Oyster Cult’s gig here last year, except this time the largely middle-aged and male crowd included a fair proportion of punks and indie fans alongside heavy rockers, recognising the Illinois quartet’s broad musical appeal.
They were warmed up by a short set from a band at the other end of the spectrum, Stone Broken who seem to be getting on some big name tours and festivals. One of my friends who is a fan describes them as ‘Nickelback UK’ but though Rich Moss’s vocals certainly have the air of Chad Kroeger or Theory of a Deadman’s Tyler Connolly, the crisp and clean guitar solos of Chris Davis have a classic feel and are not in the least grungey. Together with Rich’s confident but friendly stage manner and his willingness to start audience participation, they make a winning combination.
The likes of ‘Stay all Night’ and ‘Not Your Enemy’ which bookended the set are solid rockers with good hooks, but particularly impressive were ‘Better’ with its secondary chorus, and the ballad ‘Wait for You’ dedicated to a superfan all the way from the USA, where modern rock radio would love such a track. They even slipped in a new song in ‘Doesn’t Matter’ and the way they still went down very well with an audience of dedicated Cheap Trick fans suggests their future is very bright indeed.
To a backing tape proclaiming themselves as the ‘greatest rock n roll band in the world’ Cheap Trick came on stage with traditional opener ‘Hello There’ with the odd couple, Rick Nielsen his zany trademark self with his jerky, freewheeling stage movements and Robin Zander, looking like a junior Rob Halford in leathers and his blond hair hidden under a biker’s cap.
Two things struck me from an early stage – one is that the wider public image of them is overly fluffy and, certainly live, they are a raw outfit, owing much to garage rock from the sixties onwards- as evidence by the ‘Can’t Explain’ style riff to second song ‘Long Time Coming’.
The other was to be reminded that every Cheap Trick setlist is completely different from one night to the next. While an ever changing setlist can be frustrating for the more casual fan weaned on their Greatest Hits (in which category I tend to fall), it presented the diehards with an opportunity to hear relative obscurities such as ‘On Top Of The World’, ‘The House is Rockin’ and ‘Baby Loves To Rock’ alongside the more familiar, their covers of ‘California Man’ and ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ with some fine slide work from Rick.
Despite rave reviews for new album ‘We’re All Right’, they plugged it sparingly, though ‘You Got It Going On’ nestled very comfortably with the classic material. Singing at a physically demanding full pelt, Robin was superb, hitting every note, though his habit of leaving Rick to do 95% of the between song crowd interaction certainly helps preserve that ‘Hobson’s’.
There were also cover versions and though a version of ‘The In Crowd’ that those of us of a certain generation associate with Brian Ferry was a spectacular surprise, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ went on a touch too long. Robin was also given a break from vocal duties when bassist Tom Petersson sang ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ in a menacing fashion that matched his outlaw-style hat and neckerchief.
The one incongruous song in the set was the US No 1 power ballad ‘The Flame’, played partly in homage to its co-writer Nick Graham being present, though not before some mickey taking from Rick. With Robin on acoustic guitar and singing superbly and in a slightly less polished way than on record. I loved it, but judging from my social media feed it was the least favourite part of the night for CT’s dedicated fans.
After a relative newie in ‘When I Wake Up Tomorrow’ which saw Robin singing more sedately in a lower register, belatedly we were into hit territory with a closing duo of ‘I Want You To Want Me’ and ‘Dream Police’, people singing along and fists pumping, and the corking party atmosphere reached even greater heights during opening encore ‘Surrender’ with a mass audience chorus of ‘we’re all right’. But true to their mercurial form, they followed it with a dark, feedback-strewn ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ before the inevitable closer of ‘Goodnight Now’.
For many present, it was goodnight but not farewell as they followed them to the two other UK shows, where an entirely different setlist was played. If variety is the spice of life, then this quirky institution of a group should still be rocking into their half century and beyond.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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