By Phyllis Pollack
As Cheap Trick continues their extended Sgt. Pepper Live performances at Paris in Las Vegas, California, and a few other Stateside gigs, then moves on to the UK to perform in Manchester and London, the new ‘Setlist’ series released by Legacy Recordings, featuring live recordings from Columbia, Epic and RCA archives has just been released, culminating in The Very Best Of Cheap Trick Live.
While some of their later major hits are not on The Very Best Of Cheap Trick Live, that may a good thing, as bigger is not always better. At least, that’s the way it turns out as the result on this album.
Having sold 20 million albums, Cheap Trick’s line-up is comprised of former session player, guitarist Rick Nielson (Gene Simmons, Alice Cooper), vocalist Robin Zander, bassist Tom Petersson, and drummer Bun E. Carlos. Notwithstanding a short absence of Petersson from the band in the early ‘80’s, the group has retained this longtime line-up since the ‘70’s.
Having first seen Cheap Trick live in the ‘70’s, and serving as a witness to their early live performances, noting Nielson’s rock and roll guitar antics and Zander’s pop ready allure, not to mention Carlos’ tasteful drumming with Petersson as his perfect rhythmic foil, it was evident that their career as a live band would soldier on indefinitely.
Having started out as a club band in the Chicago area in 1974, Cheap Trick earned their stripes (and their initial record deal with Epic Records) as a result of their reputation for writing catchy songs and banging out great live performances. Their musical message when translated live has always worked well, in fact, admirably for them, and it has always been the band’s strongest asset.
When early on, there were times Nielsen would have more than one guitar strapped on at the same time, and it wasn’t a joke. This visually zany guy was quickly gaining respect as a guitar player. Nielsen’s image may have been goofy at that point (just like AC/DC’s Angus Young) but he quickly proved to be a highly proficient, as well as slick guitar player. This was certainly adding to the reputation of the band’s live shows.
Cheap Trick generated an immediate following with the release of their self-titled debut album. However, when they became a household name, it was the result of their live at Budokan double album, recorded in Japan.
Appropriately, the earliest recordings on the ‘Setlist’ disc are from a club gig, from 1977 in Los Angles at the Whiskey A Go-Go, with renditions of “You’re All Talk,” “Ballad Of TV Violence” and “Mrs. Henry.”
The Very Best Of Cheap Trick Live then moves from Los Angeles to only a year later, 1978, with the band live again, this time from The Complete Budokan. “I Want You To Want Me,” with its screaming girls in the audience, manages to still not give the band a teeny bop reputation, because people listening to the album were extremely (and rightfully) distracted by Nielsen’s very adult guitar playing.
Despite Cheap Trick’s ability to write commercial tunes, the band’s tongue-in-cheek approach was not misunderstood by the fans, and therefore, the band escaped being labeled as a teeny bopper, bubble gum act (which they certainly weren’t).
It is very likely no accident that the band named its publishing company “Adult Music.”
With its layered intro, the continuous drum riff, and the long muted bass riff, and its scrapey, rhythmic vamp, “Need Your “Love” comes across very differently from the version that is its studio counterpart, although they are playing the same thing. One realizes what this band sounds like live. And it’s the stage where they really rock.
The ‘Setlist’s’ rendition of “Surrender” is the one that was famously also recorded at Budokan.
Its tracks “Can’t Hold On” and “Downed” also recorded in Japan in ’78.
Next along the timeline, the ‘Setlist’ disc takes the band to L.A.’s venue The Forum, where at that time in 1978, major acts had played there that included Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones.
The album’s inclusion of “The House is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)” recorded at The Forum has these lyrics, “He said, she said, he said, she said it’s bad for the children,” Zander sings. Hmmm…That’s some pretty heavy stuff for a pop act with such cute guys. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
The album pushes the time machine button forward, catapulting the band to 1988, playing “I Know What I Want” and “The Flame.”
‘The Very Best of Cheap Trick Live’ uses the band’s strongest assets. For those wanting to hear Cheap Trick live at their best, rather than just their biggest, this is the disc for it.