Strange Times For Cheap Trick

Cover art from Cheap Trick's recent Sub Pop single.

If this were a cartoon world, Cheap Trick would be the Bizarro

Aerosmith, similar in outward appearance and endurance, but fundamentally the

opposite where it counts.

If Aerosmith are crude, brash, slick and still

riding high after the fallow years, Cheap Trick are equally slick, but honest,

brash, humble, and, well, still trying to grab that brass ring Steven Tyler so

boldly dangles from his pumped-up lips. It's hard sometimes.

Cheap Trick

rolled into Tucson, Arizona's The Outback club Wednesday night (March 19), not

so much a club as a 1,200-capacity airplane hangar filled with beefy men,

flesh-exposing barmaids and enough hair-sprayed hair to choke the dust out of

the desert wind, and they played just what you'd expect them to: a great,

hard-working set of oldies and newbies with a little rockabilly and just a

flash of metal thrown in.

The thing is this: every contemporary rocker from

Billy Corgan to Kat Bjelland has kneeled at the Cheap Trick altar at one time

or another, but for the past decade or so (excluding the cheesy 1988 ballad

"The Flame") Trick have been stuck in a rut. In Bizarro World, they continued

to matter while Aerosmith gave up any pretense, but the Boston boys got the

spotlight while Trick kept at it. They still rocked, there just weren't as many

people there to see it. (Last summer's Rockford, Illinois Lollapalooza stop

notwithstanding, where they commanded and won-over an 18,000-strong Metallica

crowd.)

But, you tell yourself, these fuckers played Budokan! They

probably still could, but that doesn't mean much in Tucson, Arizona on a

Wednesday night. Because if Aerosmith clawed their way back to the top after a

few lost years and a career hydroplane thanks to a nasty mind and a sure-fire

formula, Cheap Trick never really went away. So, even if their upcoming

self-titled album for Red Ant isn't their best--but by no means their

worst--work in a while, it's still undeniably Cheap Trick, and that still rocks

in its sleep hours before Soundgarden have even strapped on their

guitars...



This show was the start of a promotional tour to get

people hyped for the new album, which guitarist Rick Nielsen shamelessly

plugged several times and, judging from the enthusiasm in the fist-in-the-air

crowd, there would be no surrender. They opened with a no-brainer rip through

"I Want You to Want Me," right into "C'Mon, C'Mon."

Yeah! Just like old

times, baby! A couple of new tunes, you know, because that's how it works. Give

'em a little, then hit 'em with the new goods. That's the other thing about

these guys, they do it so well. Almost too well. After about 45-minutes, it

starts to feel like everyone has fallen into a "role." Robin Zander is the

pumped-up, golden-haired looker, Nielsen continues to be the wacky uncle,

bassist Tom Petersson (the other cute one) has morphed into a Clint Black-alike

thanks to a stay in Nashville and an eight-gallon black hat, and drummer Bun E.

Carlos? Well, what can you say, he's Bun E.! Calm, effortless, never hurried,

Bun E. is the Buddha of the Beat.

Despite the venue's tin-can-inner

skeleton, Trick sounded tight, with a slightly punky edge on Zander's rough

higher register. A couple more new one's and then, mid-show, ah, what's this?

Petersson walks up to the mike and starts crooning an aw shucks, loping version

of the Dream Police's "I Know What I Want." That was weird.

They

roll through a few classics, end with "Surrender" and the lighters go up, the

house goes nuts. A great rock show. The best you've seen in a while, really.

Not too sweaty, got a couple of beers and whatnot down, heard some great

classics. Plus, you know "Dream Police" is coming up. You're

pyshced.

"Dream Police" was awesome and now Nielsen is working away at lil'

Rick, his Nielsen-shaped signature guitar during a smoking "Auf Wiedersehen."

Things are pretty good. They bring it in with the classic show-closer, "Good

Night."

Everybody has a smile and the DJ flips on the strobes and Billy

Squier's "Everybody Wants You" booms out into the half-empty room. Courtesy of

a little rock remixing, Squier segues nicely into Judas Priest, into AC/DC,

Joan Jett and, a taste of Queen, back to Jett, and, as you're leaving, back to

Squier's roller-skating classic, "The Stroke."