by Doug MacGunnigle, WPRO
Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Cheap Trick brought their irresistible brand of rock and roll to Webster’s bucolic Indian Lake amphitheater on Saturday afternoon, displaying to all in attendance why they are cited over and over as one of the best rock bands of the past 40 years.
The rare afternoon show, on the banks of Webster Lake, showed the band in fine form- ripping through a brisk 90 minute set. Taking the stage to the customary “Hello There,” lead guitarist and chief songwriter Rick Nielsen, incendiary vocalist Robin Zander, inventor of the 12 string bass guitar Tom Petersson, drummer Daxx Neilsen (son of Rick,) and touring guitarist Robin Taylor Zander (son of Robin) breezed through crowd pleasing classics and deep cuts alike.
Early highlights included some covers that they are famous for making their own – their classic take on the Move’s “California Man,” which interpolates the same group’s proto-heavy metal “Brontosaurus,” Fat’s Domino’s “Ain’t That Shame,” and Big Star’s “In the Street,” in an arrangement first heard recorded by the band as the theme song for “That 70’s Show.”
Fans of the band’s classic “Live at Budokan” album were treated to high energy takes on “Lookout,” “Big Eyes,” and the aforementioned “Ain’t that a Shame” early in the show.
Zander’s voice remains remarkable – showed off to its full potential on a beautiful take on “Voices,” featuring great backgrounds from the younger Neilsen and Zander.
Daxx Neilsen may not be original member Bun E. Carlos, but his dexterous drumming and harmonies add much to the overall sound of the band. Likewise, Robin Taylor Zander’s extra vocals and guitar fattened up the band’s sound without needing to rely on a keyboard player.
Happily, the band didn’t ignore some of their strong material recorded in the 1980’s – “If You Want My Love” and a ferocious take on “She’s Tight” were received warmly by the crowd, in addition to a stunning vocal from Zander on 1987’s “The Flame.”
The band satisfied die-hards with hard rocking versions of “The House is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems,” which Neilsen quipped that it was ‘too hot for today, but we’ll do it anyway,’ and “Baby Loves to Rock.”
Neilsen, as guitar hero of the band, chief songwriter, and master of ceremonies on stage, showered the crowd with handfuls of guitar picks, including one perfectly aimed at this photographer’s lens.
He also went through about a dozen different guitars, including ones shaped like album covers, a perfect copy of Jeff Beck’s white Telecaster, several gorgeous Gibson Les Pauls, and a doubleneck that resembled the guitar player himself.
He paced the stage while churning out hot guitar licks, mugging for the crowd – not making any false efforts at cliche’d ‘guitar god’ poses.
Petersson, who plays the bone-shattering 12 string bass, took a solo before singing his take on the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man,” which provided a perfectly ridiculous juxtaposition – singing a song about scoring drugs in a filthy urban landscape while on the shores of beautiful Webster Lake. Perfect Cheap Trick.
The band saved the big guns for last – besides “the Flame,” they performed their golden hits “I Want You to Want Me,” “Dream Police,” and “Surrender” to cap off the show, before putting a bow on it with “Hello There” bookend “Goodnight Now,” for which Neilsen hauled out his trademark 5 neck guitar.
Most of Cheap Trick’s touring as of late has been in a support role at larger venues – opening for the likes of Peter Frampton, Journey, and Def Leppard. One could argue the roles should be reversed – the thought of having to play on stage after them is daunting, indeed.
This was a rare headlining show this summer before they join up with fellow Hall of Famers ZZ Top, with whom they will play in Boston on September 18th at the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion. If you haven’t seen Cheap Trick and you love rock and roll, you must check them out – they’re as rocking and vital today as they were 30 or even 40 years ago – and Zander’s voice is still nothing short of remarkable.