During Cheap Trick’s set inside the Seneca Niagara Events Center on Saturday night, guitarist Rick Nielsen took a moment to acknowledge a woman who had traveled all the way from Japan to see the band storm the casino stage.
I’m sure that she wasn’t the only member of the over-40 crowd who had come a long way to hear Nielsen howl away on his Hamer five-neck guitar once again, but her story stood out for two reasons. First, she was celebrating her 187th Cheap Trick show (you read that right), and, second, she was in attendance when the band recorded their timeless “At Budokan” album in 1978.
Questions immediately abounded as to how she managed to drum up the time and resources to achieve such a feat, so, if anyone out there wishes to know how it’s done, she would be the one to ask.
The pertinent question of the evening, for me anyway, was whether or not the band’s performance would make her trip a success, and, like they always do, Cheap Trick gave the people a commanding lesson in how to maintain your rock credibility once the mainstream no longer values polished musicianship.
Vocalist Robin Zander appeared on stage dressed in his outlandish captain outfit and led the band through a 21-song set featuring “Hello There,” “Tonight It’s You,” and “She’s Tight.” Unlike other singers of his era, Zander has lost nothing in terms of tone or lyrical cadence, and tears through “Surrender” and “California Man” with the same degree of insolence that made him a stand-out from the beginning.
I actually had the urge to wonder if he could still tackle the high notes in “The Flame,” but the standing ovation he received during the song’s climax made that appear silly, to say the least. Sure, it’s sugary pop ecstasy, but the song kills live, and should be considered one of the premium power ballads of the 1980s.
As a band that prides itself on having a wacky sense of humor, Rick Nielsen made sure that the casino crowd was given a healthy dose of his offbeat mannerisms. He introduced the band in a rousing fashion only he could pull off, wished the audience luck on the slots, and delivered his paranoid line in “Dream Police” with a Machiavellian smile.
His playing was as forceful and frantic as ever while pacing from up and down the stage and the presence of his son Daxx on drums is a fiery combination that works to perfection.
When it came time for bassist Tom Petersson to shine, he proved why he’s one of the most underrated players in the business. He wailed away on his custom 12-string bass with the ease one would expect from a consummate professional, and his vocal on “I Know What I Want” was dynamic in all the right places.
The band brought the evening to a close with a ripping take on “Auf Wiedersehen” and the requisite “Goodnight,” which was also used to wrap up their time at Budokan. In a year that has already offered a wealth of inspiring shows, Cheap Trick did its part to keep the ball rolling and propel Western New York into the fall season on a high.
As for me, that’s one down, 186 more to go…