Sunday, September 01, 2013

Beloved Band, Classic Albums Make for Stellar Show, but Abrupt Ending Feels Like a Cheap Trick -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Cheap Trick
w/ Ravinia Festival Orchestra
Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL
August 31, 2013

With their concert at Ravinia capping a week that saw the demolition of the the iconic Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood and the UBAA Tap--which had stood at Harrison & Crawford, near both my childhood and current home, since 1936--it was nice to see Cheap Trick standing as an enduring vestige of my childhood. (Though my best friend since kindergarten turning 45 would also count in that regard.)

Cheap Trick at Budokan was the first album I ever bought with my own money--at age 10--and "Surrender" the first song whose lyrics I memorized.

I remember getting the subsequent Dream Police and All Shook Up albums--and most thereafter--and seeing a TV broadcast of the band's appearance at ChicagoFest in 1981. I also recall a girl in a junior high social studies class wearing a Cheap Trick '81 concert jersey after their show at the Granada Theater, and feeling jealous. (The Granada wound up getting demolished; the girl wound up marrying Eddie Vedder.)

On August 21, 1983, I saw Cheap Trick live for the first time, at the last ChicagoFest--the one at Soldier
Field--on a bill with Joe Walsh and Steve Dahl & Teenage Radiation. 

And I've seen them 9 times in the intervening years, from headlining gigs at Ravinia to their 1999 "Silver Anniversary" show in their hometown of Rockford to a free show at a lakefront festival in Hammond to opening slots for Ratt--in 1986--Def Leppard (and Poison, in 2009) and Aerosmith, a couple times.

Though there were assuredly even more hardcore Cheap Trick fans in attendance Saturday night at Ravinia--as evidenced by some of the T-shirts--I was excited to see them once again, especially in getting half-price pavilion seats through Goldstar for me and my friend Dave. 

Though I would have been fine with a typical mixed-bag set of songs, particularly as old faves like "Stop This Game" and "Voices" seemed fairly common in 2013 setlists, given my affinity for At Budokan, it was appealing to note that Cheap Trick would be playing it in full, as well as The Beatles' classic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which the band has performed in Las Vegas. (Their Beatles connection also includes having recorded Double Fantasy demos with John Lennon.)

Also a bit unique was having longstanding Tricksters Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander and Tom Peterson (with Nielsen's son Daxx on drums in place of the no-longer-touring Bun E. Carlos, who was never mentioned, perhaps because of this) accompanied by an orchestra.

With the Ravinia Festival Orchestra already seated, the show started promptly at 7:30 with Sgt. Pepper's title track. Coming soon after I've seen Paul McCartney and tribute band American English, and Dave had seen Tributosaurus performing The White Album, it was a bit odd seeing Cheap Trick devoting 45 minutes of their show to covering the Beatles. 

But the songs all sounded great, with a second guitarist, keyboardist and four Beatle-suited backup singers joining the band and orchestra in ensuring the classic album's lush soundscape was faithfully re-created. 

For George Harrison's Eastern-influenced "Within You Without You," a 3-piece Indian combo was rolled onstage on a trolley, and bassist Petersen sang the lead vocal. 

And like much of the rest, the album-closing "A Day in the Life" was truly sublime. 

After a short break, Cheap Trick returned sans orchestra to perform 1979's At Budokan ("The Complete Concert" was later released, but the band stuck to the 10 songs on their most successful album, a live one recorded on tour in Japan after, Heaven Tonight, their third studio album). 

This too sounded terrific, with Daxx Nielsen faithfully handling Carlos' classic drum opening on "Ain't That a Shame."

The last, drum and vocal-only verse of "I Want You To Want Me" remains one of my favorite musical moments, and in closing my eyes during "Surrender," it was suddenly 1979 again, with Zander still in superb voice. 

Speaking of 1979, at the "got my KISS records out" line of "Surrender," Nielsen slung a vinyl copy of At Budokan into the crowd (he's been doing likewise for 30+ years). Though I couldn't quite see it at the time, Nielsen later revealed from the stage that the album had been caught, quite randomly, by Billy Corgan, an avid CT fan who was in the pavilion crowd. 

Given the dual albums played in full, the show lacked the spontaneity that truly transcendent concerts often entail, but as a blast-from-the-past, the music was very well-played and perfectly pleasing. 

The performance lasted nearly 2 hours, so for just $37 (including Goldstar fees), I didn't feel too shortchanged, but the way the night ended was nonetheless disappointing.

Early in the show, Nielsen--always the band's stage spokesman, not Zander--told that in addition to playing Sgt. Pepper's and At Budokan, the orchestra would subsequently join them for more Beatles songs and more Cheap Trick songs. 

This didn't prove to be entirely true. After "Clock Strikes Ten" brought At Budokan to an end around 9:15pm, Cheap Trick and the Ravinia orchestra performed the Beatles' "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End," which wraps up the Abbey Road album.

This too sounded excellent, but after "The End," the band said goodnight and walked off-stage. Despite heavy and prolonged applause, the only people who came back onstage were roadies who started unplugging the microphones.

What happened to Nielsen's promise of "more Cheap Trick songs?"

Couldn't they do "Dream Police," "If You Want My Love," "Baby Loves to Rock," "Voices" and/or a couple others, perhaps bringing Corgan up on stage?

I'm not suggesting this ruined the show, merely abbreviated it. Dave and I, and another friend we encountered, sufficiently enjoyed the performance, yet all agreed that "points should be taken off" for the abrupt ending--hence my @@@@, not @@@@1/2 rating.

Here was a band, long past its peak popularity, playing a heavily-attended show in its home state, and it opts not to reward the raucous ovation with even one encore?

Plus, while I love the Beatles, I paid to see Cheap Trick and heard just 10 of their songs vs. 16 Beatle covers (while noting that "Ain't That a Shame" is also a cover, of Fats Domino).

Anyway, having now spent more than 1,000 words basically saying that Cheap Trick put on a highly enjoyable show that ended a few songs too soon, I'll end by saying that I still love the band from Rockford, and have enjoyed the ride. Like with Depeche Mode, who I saw last Saturday, I have no idea why Cheap Trick isn't in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, nor ever even nominated.

As always, I look forward to seeing them again, and since YouTube can now serve as some kind of substitute for the real thing, for those of us who felt it was missing, here's "Dream Police" from a recent Cheap Trick show:


John Lyman said...

I totally agree, the show really rocked, but the ending sucked! What the heck happened? Why tease us, not once, but twice, saying they'd play more, then just bolt? The Metra train south took almost an hour to arrive which caused some to speculate that the show was scheduled to run much longer. If they had just kept their mouths closed, I wouldn't have expected more than the two albums, instead they lie and to play with our heads. Shame!

Linda Mitcheltree said...

glad to find a review online. I have never been to a concert where the band didn't do an encore. I loved the show it was really great but a very strange ending! I was sure they would come back and do "Dream Police". They missed a great spontanious moment with Billy Corrigan, would have been great! I hope they read the posts on their Facebook page and not do this again!!

T Comp said...

I'm guessing dangerous heat exhaustion was setting in for either Nielsen or Zander. Very high humidity, heavy costumes and playing the night before may have caught up with their age. Saw Rick grabbing at a plastic cup of something on the side of the stage several times. An explanation would have been nice but I'm still exuberant as it was my first show in 33 years and there were easily a hundred between '75 and '79.