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Live Review: Cheap Trick at Metro β€’ Chicago

| July 17, 2023

Cheap Trick

Cheap Trick with Brokeback

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Metro, Chicago, IL

Review by Jeff Elbel

The 40th-anniversary celebration at Chicago’s venerable Metro continued on Sunday by welcoming Rockford’s finest rock and roll export,Β Cheap Trick, for a soldout show. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers maintain a regular presence in the area, but Sunday’s show was a treat with one of the band’s longest setlists here in recent memory. The selections touched on eight albums ranging from Cheap Trick’s 1977 debut to 2021’s In Another World.

At 8 PM, the band strode on stage and launched a tightly paced flurry of songs. First was a ferocious version of β€œClock Strikes Ten.” Drummer Daxx Nielsen propelled the song like he was swinging hammers and concluded with a bombastic solo.Urgent versions of β€œHello There” and β€œJust Got Back” followed,Β setting up the early highlight β€œCalifornia Man.” The latter song began with the swaggering riff of The Move’s β€œBrontosaurus,” pausing for Robin Zander’s vocal introduction. β€œGoing to a party,” he sang with outsized style, lingering momentarily before the band crashed in behind him. The singer stoked the willing crowd with call and response.

Zander sported a spangled silver jacket and a black hat with a star emblem, reporting for duty as one of the Dream Police. Guitarist Rick Nielsen wore a black ball cap and a suit jacket emblazoned with images of his signature guitar picks.

Principal songwriter and comical presence Nielsen introducedΒ an early Cheap Trick favorite as the band paused for breath. β€œThis was inspired by my wife,” he said, making a self-deprecating joke. β€œIt’s called β€˜He’s a Whore’.” At this point, Nielsen was already well into his parade of flashy and recognizable Hamer guitars. A yellow guitar with flames painted on the body and song title β€œGonna Raise Hell” was brought out for β€œBig Eyes.” Nielsen shifted brands when stretching out with a hot guitar solo during β€œOn Top of the World” on a classic Les Paul.

β€œEverybody feeling okay out there?” asked Zander afterward. β€œI’m feeling pretty good myself,” he added. The singer’s full-throated howl was in top form throughout the evening, giving credence to many who cite his voice as the finest in rock and roll – topping a list of gifted colleagues and friends including Plant, Daltrey, Vedder, Cornell, and more.

Daxx Nielsen thundered through predecessor Bun E. Carlos’ familiar introduction to the adrenalized cover of Fats Domino’s β€œAin’t That a Shame” from 1978’s Live at Budokan. At the song’s end, the four bandmates, including bassist Tom Petersson traded riffs until Rick Nielsen bellowed,Β β€œLet’s party!” Afterward, the guitarist scanned the room for any Red Sox fans, earning exaggerated boos. The elder Nielsen said that Daxx had been down the street at Wrigley Field to witness the Cubs’ drubbing earlier in the day.

Cheap Trick slowed the tempo for the expressive title cut to Heaven Tonight but countered with the bluesy stomper β€œThe Ballad of T.V. Violence (I’m Not the Only Boy).” Nielsen cheekily solicited questions from the audience before introducing Zander as his β€œfavorite lead singer in the whole wide world,”Β setting up the next song. β€œI can’t say this is from our last record because we haven’t made our last record yet,” he said. β€œWe’re too dumb to quit.” Zander responded to Nielsen off-mic, saying, β€œThat’s the name of the record. Cheap Trick: Too Dumb to Quit!”

The band then played the rowdy β€œBoys & Girls & Rock N Roll,” demonstrating Cheap Trick’s continuing knack for big hooks. Winning singles β€œThe Summer Looks Good on You” and scorcher β€œLight Up the Fire” would have been welcome additions, but β€œBoys & Girls & Rock N Roll” was the only taste of In Another World.

After a riveting β€œStop This Game,” the band pivoted to highlight the next generation. Rhythm guitarist and background vocalist Robin Taylor Zander moved to center stage in front of Daxx Nielsen’s drum set to sing In Color classic β€œDowned.”The younger Zander’s new album was plugged by Rick Nielsen, although the guitarist said, β€œI haven’t heard it yet because he hasn’t given it to me.” The younger Zander sang in a purer tenor than his father’s voice, with clear and ringing high notes and without his dad’s gravelly edge. Daxx Nielsen locked in time with Petersson to give the track a heavy bounce.

Petersson played a rumbling but tuneful solo on his familiar 12-string bass, leading into his saucy Dream Police track β€œI Know What I Want.” Robin Zander was featured on the #1 single β€œThe Flame,” accompanied by Rick Nielsen on a guitar painted with the faces of the Beatles. After the song of longing, Zander goaded the crowd to a fever pitch. β€œOh yeah?” he cried. β€œWell, I want you to want me!” The band played a chugging β€œI Want You to Want Me” before sirens heralded a set-closing blast through β€œDream Police.” After delivering the song’s paranoid soliloquy, Nielsen heaved fistfuls of his custom guitar picks into the crowd.

Cheap Trick soon returned for an encore. Zander coached the crowd on its vocal part for the feral β€œNever Had a Lot to Lose,” but the audience needed no instruction when the band barreled into β€œSurrender.” Nielsen played his Uncle Dick self-caricature guitar while Zander belted the cathartic β€œAuf Wiedersehen.” Nielsen’s backbreaking 5-neck guitar appeared during show closer β€œGoodnight.”

Zander gave a parting blessing before the band left the stage. β€œWe’re gonna be out all summer long, so come see us again,” he said.

The evening began with the evocative landscapes of Chicago’s instrumental post-rock quartet Brokeback. Douglas McCombsΒ and Jim Elkington uncoiled interweaving guitar lines drenched in reverb, echo, and twang. Songs including β€œRise, Fernanda, Rise!” from the band’s latest album,Β Illinois River Valley Blues, conjured the image of Television playing an Ennio Morricone spaghetti Western soundtrack. McCombs played a staccato figure while Elkington offered a spirited medley. Soon, the guitarists joined in climbing harmony. Drummer Areif Sless-Kitain applied a deft touch and subtle jazz figures while supporting the slow drone of one brand-new song from a forthcomingΒ Brokeback project and played with brushes during the waltz-time β€œUrsula.” Bassist Pete Croke underpinned β€œCairo Levee” with a snaky bass riff. McCombs’ improvisational style during the song featuredΒ a spacious tone that gradually became unhinged and convulsive with emotion. The band concluded with expressive and sublime twin-guitar harmonies during β€œNight Falls on Chillicothe.”

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