Monday, September 09, 2019

I Want You To Gimme All Your Lovin': ZZ Top and Cheap Trick Pair for a Fun Evening -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

ZZ Top
w/ opening acts
Cheap Trick
Marquise Knox
Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Tinley Park, IL
September 7, 2019
@@@@ (ZZ Top/Cheap Trick composite)

Cheap Trick has been one of my favorite bands for about as long as I've had favorite bands.

The Rockford, IL native's 1979 live album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, was either the first LP I bought with my own money or close to it. (This remembrance recently re-arose in fun fashion when I visited Tokyo and saw the Budokan's exterior.)

I've seen Cheap Trick numerous times over the years--first in 1983--and especially with singer Robin Zander still in fine voice and guitarist Rick Nielsen an exuberantly kooky stage presence, every few years I look for and relish another opportunity.

This one was provided by a tour supporting ZZ Top, a band celebrating its 50th anniversary--with the same three longtime members--that deserves being seen more that the one time I did, in 1986.

So while I really don't like the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre--its dull utilitarian design, poor acoustics, bland ambiance and especially the time it takes to get to & from its Tinley Park location--when Live Nation offered $20 pavilion seats, I couldn't resist buying the last row of the pavilion.

After aptly, in my mind, preceding Cheap Trick with sushi at a nearby strip mall, I arrived at my seat as the evening's first performer--blues singer/guitarist Marquise Knox--was about half-way through his half-hour set. He sounded good as he teased a couple cover song riffs, including "Layla," that I wish he actually played in full. 

Cheap Trick played for about an hour, opening--as they did at Budokan--with "Hello There."

Despite wearing a police cap at the start that made me wonder if--at age 66--his trademark long blond hair was a thing of the past, Zander soon revealed that it isn't.

And more importantly, his voice sounded great, perhaps most demonstrably on Cheap Trick's #1--if somewhat saccharin--hit, "The Flame."

Drummer Bun E. Carlos is the only original Trickster no longer part of the band, replaced by Nielsen's son Dax, who well-powered the intro of "Ain't That a Shame," a highlight of the night and the Budokan set.

Actually, of the 10 songs that were on the original Cheap Trick at Budokan LP--which wasn't the full Tokyo concert, more of which came out on later editions--seven were performed Saturday night.

These included “Clock Strikes Ten,” “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender,” all rather delectably, the last one accompanied by Scott Lucas of Local H.

It’s never not fun to hear Cheap Trick play these songs plus "Dream Police" and some others—
including a cover of Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for My Man” led by bassist Tom Petersson on guitar and vocals—and the hour-long, 14-song set was generous for an opening act (not co-headliner).

But as such, Cheap Trick didn’t have much in the way of visual accoutrements—beyond Nielsen’s plethora of cool guitars, including one that looks like him and another with five necks—and though there was nothing wrong with what the band delivered, I can’t say this was Cheap Trick at their most exciting.

And I would basically say the same about ZZ Top, who I recalled being particularly phenomenal back in 1986, but largely felt like nostalgic fun here.

Certainly it’s cool that with the “tres hombres” now at or near 70, guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill have truly aged into their navel-length beards—and the ironically-named drummer Frank Beard still hasn’t grown one—but while undoubtedly enjoyable, their performance felt a bit too by the book.

For a band celebrating 50 years together, the 90-minute set principally found me loving the three MTV-era gems, “Gimme All Your Lovin’, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs”—though the nostalgic videos of yore actually detracted—and two wonderful earlier classics, “La Grange” and “Tush.”

This doesn’t mean that other songs weren’t enjoyable; “I Thank You,” “Waitin’ for the Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” certainly were, among others. (See ZZ Top's setlist here and Cheap Trick's here)

But including the standard-on-this-tour show closer—a quick cover of “Jailhouse Rock”—the show suffered for feeling like a band playing all the same songs in every city.

In the home of the blues, the affable Gibbons and Hill paid some lip-service homage to Chicago, and
Gibbons remains a terrific guitarist.

But did they conjure up some rip-roaring blues cover to bring a particular vitality to this show? Or just to differentiate a bit from what the folks in St. Louis and Milwaukee had heard?


It’s admirable that it’s still just Gibbons, Hill and Beard onstage, and if some of the lead vocals—mainly delivered by Gibbons but also Hill—weren’t all that powerful, well, they ain’t youngsters anymore.

But for lack of a better way to put it, I wanted their performance—again, in the Tinley Park “shed” that brings built-in sterility—to have some stomp and swagger.

Unfortunately, it really didn’t.

Sure, including Cheap Trick and even Marquise Knox, there were enough great songs to make it a fun, satisfying night for my $20.

Even given the venue, I can say the long trek from and back to Skokie was worthwhile.

But I just can’t say it was all that special.

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