On February 6th, 1989 I saw Cheap Trick at the Moncton Coliseum, a band I had coveted since hearing their incredible live recording of I Want You To Want Me back when I was maybe ten years old.
(Interesting historical note here: Cheap Trick had recorded a studio version of the song for one of their albums and it was deservedly not a hit. Listen to it sometime and you’ll hear every note from the version that made them famous but on the studio version there is not a wisp of the energy and vitality of the take from the Live At Budokan album. In fact, the live album was just a quickie release put together solely to fulfill the band’s record contract, and soon after the album was released Cheap Trick was dropped from their label.
Somehow, an American dj – in Detroit I think – got his hands on the Japanese-only release and started playing the heck out of I Want You To Want Me. From this alone the song ended up becoming a hit and Cheap Trick became stars.)
Eddie Money opened the show which was a bit of a bonus I guess. It’s not like I would run out and spend money to see Eddie but hearing him sing that Baby Hold On To Me song was worth the little effort it took to show up on time.
The energetic days of Cheap Trick were long behind them; at this point they were touring on the strength of their surprise hit ballad, a syrupy power chord fiesta called The Flame (a surprise also to the band; they were reluctant to even record the song and only did so at the insistence of their record producer) so there was no way they were going to deliver the same power as they did back in the Budokan era.
Or so I thought.
Turns out the band was still very, very awesome. Rick Neilson’s stage presence was absolutely manic and he brought along with him a virtual fashion show of beautiful guitars to strut down the runway, including his fabled five-necked Hamer. The funniest part of of the unwieldy instrument isn’t it’s octopus-like shape nor it’s massive weight of twenty-nine pounds, it’s that four of the five necks are identical – all Hamer six-strings – making the instrument as unnecessary as it is unique.
He also played his self-portrait guitar, a doubleneck that serves as his two legs protruding from a guitar body cut and painted in the form of the quirky guitarist.
Plus he played like a monster, pulling an endless stream of perfect rock lines out of whatever guitar he was playing at the time. And every once in a while Rick Neilson would suddenly shower the crowd with a hundred monogrammed guitar picks that he had secretly been holding in his picking hand throughout another of his stellar solos. I wasn’t on the floor so I didn’t catch one but I did manage to find one after the show.
And Robin Zander!!! I tell you, the guy has got to be one of the best singers in the business (now that Freddie Mercury is gone of course). The guy has pipes like an organ and he can belt out a note like a heavyweight champion.
Plus there was the bass player who always wears a suit and the drummer with the funny name; everyone had something to bring to the table.
The band tore though a set of pure rock and roll and kept pulling out hit after hit that half the crowd had forgotten about. To nail down in your mind just how shockingly great this show was imagine this: even The Flame didn’t suck.
And to think, if not for that dj in Detroit that spun the grooves off of that obscure Japanese import I would have had nothing to do on this night but to sit home and watch television.