What is it about Cheap Trick that’s allowed this quartet to endure four plus decades? Could it be the simple combination of hooks, harmonies and fat riffs that easily makes them the greatest American power pop band still trodding the stage? Or is their enduring appeal found in the cartoonish approach to rock and roll that’s made them an influence on legions of younger acts?
Whatever it is, the foursome of Robin Zander, Tom Petersson, Rick Nielsen and his son, Daxx, continue to be a vibrant and relevant beast of a band that hasn’t lost a step. One spin of Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello, the band’s latest effort and 17th studio outing, proves that.
Co-produced by longtime collaborator Julian Raymond, who has also worked with Glen Campbell and Fastball amongst many others, these 11 songs snap, crackle…and yes, pop in a way that befits the band’s legacy. “Blood Red Lips” has an irresistible stomp to it that trades off between an infectious chorus and vocalist Zander’s snarling howl, while the cascading chords and thump of “No Direction Home” make for the perfect nexus of pop and rock. And if the melancholy sorrow, Beatle-esque harmonies and couplets like “I get so sad and lonely/It hurts just to walk in the park/It’s only when you’re gone/I’ve got to turn my radio on/So sing me a song/You sing my blues around” that make up “Sing My Blues Away” don’t stir that part of your psyche where heartbreak and hope coexist, then you don’t have a soul. A reading of “The In Crowd” that’s far more sinister than Dobie Gray’s original version of this Billy Page classic is an added bonus.
These songs had their origins while Cheap Trick was sans a label deal, but Scott Borchetta and Big Machine (home to Taylor Swift) came knocking with Raymond in tow, who just happened to be the label’s vice president of A&R. It was a development guitarist Nielsen and his bandmates welcomed.
“We started recording and we were basically doing it on our own. We didn’t have our own record deal and just wanted to record. Before you knew it, we had 30 songs,” the elder Nielsen explained. “Right about that time, we got an offer to get signed by Scott Borchetta and Big Machine. We’d done it on our dime and all of a sudden, some of the pressure went off once somebody wants to take responsibility for what we’re up to.”
With the new album getting such a warm reception and the band getting its long-awaited induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past April, 2016 was quite the year for these Rockford, IL, natives. Inclusion in the Hall wasn’t on the band’s radar, despite the clamoring of their devoted fanbase, who felt the honor was long overdue for these Midwestern stalwarts. And while there was slightly above-average kerfluffle going on around this year’s ceremony, for Nielsen and his crew, they couldn’t have been happier with how the night went.
“It was a little frantic but it was all cool. It was a treat,” he said. “It was an honor rather than this being a lot of work or trouble or any of the excuses everyone else used.”
Cheap Trick’s musical performance at the Hall of Fame ceremony featured a reunion with original drummer Bun E. Carlos, who split with the band in 2010. Nielsen, in an April 2016 interview with “Rolling Stone” magazine, said the issue that ended Carlos’ tenure with the group was over extending a residency in Las Vegas during which the band was playing the Beatles classic album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in its entirety. Zander wanted to play only 50 shows so his daughter wouldn’t have to attend school in Vegas, while Carlos wanted to accept the casino’s offer of 100 shows.
The group decided to move on without Carlos and Cheap Trick has kept rolling right along, with Daxx stepping in on drums to form a revamped rhythm section with bassist Petersson. Rick Nielsen said his son has fit right in with the rest of the lineup.
“It’s great,” Nielsen said of having his son in the band. “I don’t actually think about it. I just go up and play. He’s steady. When you play together with different people, you have to wonder what this guy is going to do next. It’s not like that at all. It’s all good.”
Back on the road, Cheap Trick is thrilled with the reaction they’re getting from a set packed with classics and a couple of new songs, all of it delivered with the customary energy and humor that has been a hallmark of the band’s shows.
Saturday, March 25.
University of Toledo’s Savage Arena,
2025 Douglas Rd., 419-530-4653.