Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Boys From Illinois

Lately, for whatever reason, I’ve been spinning a lot of Cheap Trick records. After a few more purchases, I’ll be content with having enough C.T. titles in the collection (maybe In Color, definitely Dream Police and perhaps One On One). That is, unless Cheap Trick throws down another required listening effort, which is quite possible because they’re still going at it and they seem to be undergoing a creative resurgence, if I’m judging their latest Rockford correctly; it’s as good as they’ve done in nearly twenty years and, unlike the solid (yet horribly overproduced and dated One On One), it bypasses any attempt at “updating” their sound and relinquishes modernism for focusing on what made ‘em Rockford, Illinois finest rock and roll export.
What seems to be getting continual listens is Cheap Trick’s debut album, the remastered version with bonus tracks (including a rough demo of “I Want You To Want Me” that is totally better than the one on In Color). I’ve tried to imagine what the hell people thought of this album at the time it was released; quirky, hooky, and rough in the right places, it was unlike anything else in 1977, yet today its influence is obvious.
With songs about pedophiles, mass murderers, suicide, and greed, it’s understandable why Cheap Trick struggled a hair above obscurity while their wonderful power chords and Beatles-esque sense of melody made it easy to understand why a major label like Epic continued to foster the band along, hoping that the audience would eventually catch on.
They did, of course, with the absolutely essential Live At Budokan. The reality is that Budokan merely captures the environment that was the band’s bread and butter until record buyers had a chance to catch up: their live show. And while, with the exception of the debut, their recorded studio output found the band exploring various directions (oftentimes with frustrating results), Live At Budokan documents a band quite confident and agile on stage.
What it doesn’t do (and this doesn’t distract from how awesome that album is) is capture the characters that made up the band, during a time in rock in which lasting impressions were sometimes critical to a band’s success.
That was best experienced by seeing Cheap Trick live.

During the tour for All Shook Up, the band made their way to Memorial Auditorium, a small arena nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River in Burlington, Iowa. The venue is a stopping point for bands reaching the end of their apex, and in some cases, bands that are on the verge of stardom (Guns ‘N Roses and Metallica played there just before their careers took off).
As evidenced by Mike Damone’s struggles to unload C.T. tickets to a young customer in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the band was experiencing smaller than normal venues and less than expected record sales. Yet these Midwestern favorites continued to be a draw in Southeast Iowa and I got a friend excited about taking the 45 minute long trek to see his first concert.
Our seats were in the first ten rows, which probably created a strong memory for my friend. After all, you could do worse, much worse actually, than having Cheap Trick as your first live experience.
The other thing that probably created a strong memory was the selection of great material they played for this tour. Road tested to the point where they could probably play the entire set in their sleep, the band showed no evidence of disappointment that they were playing a date in a town that’s highest population figure was probably a generous 45,000 residents.
Rick Nielsen provided the crowd with the obligatory in-between song stage banter and in-song guitar pick tossing, one of which ended up on the floor directly in front of my friend’s seat. It’s a souvenir that I hope he still has to this day.
Nielsen used his checkerboard Hamer Explorer guitar throughout most of the performance, until he brought out the Hamer 5 neck out for a money shot.
Bun E. Carlos stayed in back most of the night, smoking and drumming, until something drew his attention from the drum riser.
“You….look…great!” Nielsen said.
“We…feel….great!” he continued.
Then, someone from the crowd through a joint on stage, which landed near Rick. Carlos, having noticed this offering, got up from his kit and walked towards the front of the stage by Rick. Nielsen noticed and then offered “Bun E….feels….great!”
Carlos picked up the joint and drew a lighter from his pocket. He lit the joint and took a large hit, much to the delight of the crowd.
“Bun E……feels….greater!”
He took another hit, and holding the smoke in his lungs, he grabbed the microphone from Rick and gave the crowd his opinion of the gift.
“Good shit.” He said, before handing the joint to someone in the front row and returning back to the drum kit.
For a fifteen year old kid, it was one of the most awesome things I had ever seen and it forever changed my opinion of Bun E. Carlos.
But time, weed, and the introduction of outside songwriters faded the image of this concert from my memory, and Cheap Trick became “street fair” act. I’m fairly certain that the band really couldn’t care less about what me, or anybody else thought about their tour schedule. They were doing what they set out to do all along: make a living playing original rock and roll music.
So with each tour, they play the obligatory hits package and incorporate a few new tracks to promote their latest effort. The thing is, having seen the band play “Surrender,” “I Want You To Want Me,” and other catalog favorites countless times, they don’t seem to be any less enthused about performing them today than when they were new.
So while newer bands underscore what they feel they’re “entitled” to, Cheap Trick understands they the only entitlement they have is showing up to the 150-200 shows they book each year. The stage has always been their strong point, and we’re privileged that they’re still at it, no matter what stage they decide to walk on.


DJMurphy said...

That's an awesome story, T. For me, CT was introduced to me by the coolest babysitter I ever had; she let me stay up as late as I wanted to, watch the Trick play on Soundstage on PBS (which was simulcast on WLUP) in'81, and it was totally awesome. I had a chance to thank her last Wednesday when I saw her at the Safes' concert (her brothers are the Safes).

For me, the desert-island CT albums are both the '77 CT and the '97 CT (self-titled) platters, In Color, Heaven Tonight, the 2 disc Budokan, Dream Police, Next Position Please, All Shook Up, and Music For Hangovers.

AnonTonight said...

You know, I didn't listen to much Cheap Trick in the old days, but remember liking it. It just didn't carry the same prestige as, say, Ratt at the time. And once the Ratt wore off, it was back to Black Flag and Minor Threat. Cheap Trick just never got a fair shake from me.

However, a friend of mine who sang in a band was out one night and was introduced to Robin Zander and had a good long talk with him. He really liked him, and told me at great length how totally cool this guy was; "He's kinda old, but he like, totally gets it!

I asked what his name was, and I knew it instantly. I told him, "I've heard that name before, never met him." On my way to work I stopped by the record store and told the main record store guy, "Dude, gimme your two most bad-ass Cheap Trick CDs." He replied with these exact words: "Fuck, finally.

He gave me two studio releases; I don't remember the titles. After work I stopped by my singer-friend's house and popped one in the CD player--the one that had the most titles I recognized. It started playing while I removed the liner notes and tossed them at my friend while he loaded the bong.

It took a few minutes and a couple of bong hits for my friend to realize he'd been digging Cheap Trick. At first, he was mildly indignant in an eye-rolling kind of "trying to lay your midwestern bullshit on me" kind of way, but I reminded him he didn't dislike it until he recognized it.

I told him, "Hey, keep listening. Also, read the liner notes."

After he read all the minutiae, he went to the main stuff, like who was in the band and (I was watching him the whole time waiting for this moment) suddenly his expression changed. He looked up and I said, "Robin Zander!"

We listened to those CDs a few more times that night and he admitted it was good stuff.

Soon after, I was able to turn his utter contempt of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains to appreciation. Slyly, I was able to maintain his "Eddie Vedder is a poseur faggot who should have his teeth kicked in" level at the proper 100%.

As an aside, I dated a Chicago girl for a few months and was appalled at her mind-blowingly shitty taste in music until one time I found her "secret" CD collection which included Cheap Trick. She was mortified (people out here hate that stuff!) until I said, "Fuck that Howard Jones and Mr. Lee bullshit, let's rock!" Thus, we listened to Cheap Trick real loud, then...

I fucked that bitch up the ass that night and she fucking loved it. She asked, "Um, does that, like, gross you out?" I replied, "Baby, gross is always trumped by raunchy, and raunchy girls are the best."*

I fucked that bitch up the ass for two years and taught her that "raunchy" meant the same thing as "get off a whole bunch." Then she dumped me for "cheating" and married some guy really quick who hated ass-fucking because he'd been ass-raped while he was in prison. So she cheated on him and got ASS HERPES.

Everyone in town heard about it, and anytime her name was brought up people would ask, "You mean that chick that has ass herpes?" so she got divorced and moved to Florida.

And that's what I know about Cheap Trick! Great post Totale!

*Never in those two years did I get any poop on me

Todd Totale said...

Best. Comment. Ever.
It ranks higher than the anonymous comment I received for posting how I wished the paramedic that revived Nikki Sixx had simply let him die. Then we wouldn't have to endure Motley Crue's Dr. Feelgood album

SuperCat said...

I demand that you pick various bands and relate experiences with people who loved/hated them.

Judas Priest springs to mind, what with all this talk of ass fucking. I remember someone saying "Stained Class" sounded completely different once Halford came out of the closet.

Your stories are seriously good stuff. Keep'em coming.

Todd Totale said...

Check the links for other Judas Priest stories:
The only other Priest story that I've got concerns one Pituitary Anusworth who would go on and on in the locker room after football practice when Defenders Of The Fait came out. I remember him sitting in the park, listening to Priest in his awesome Dodge Charger. I pulled up to chat and noticed that the sound from his car stereo was awful, which it shouldn't have been. Pituitary had a nice stereo for his nice car, so I did some further investigating. I noticed that he had installed a graphic equalizer and had all of the frequencies pushed to the top of the settings. I adjusted it to the standard "wave" setting, optimizing the bass and treble and showed him how to properly set it. I asked him "Doesn't this sound a lot better?" Pituitary replied "Yeah...But it don't CRANK!" before pushing all of the settings back to where they were before.