*Photo above of (L to R) Rick Nielsen, Daxx Nielsen and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick taken by your intrepid blogger at an actual live concert
I don’t care what your political persuasion is – I’m a lover not a fighter – but I think no matter what you believe we can all agree that one of the greatest losses during the depths of the pandemic and lockdown was the darkening of concert stages. Live music as an entertainment ceased to exist. It wasn’t safe to pack into a dark, sweaty room with other people and listen to rock n roll played live right in front of you…the way God intended it. I realize the actual loss of human lives was a toll incalculable but this is a rock n roll blog and I feel its necessary to at least acknowledge the cancellation of concerts as a thing. Believe me, I’m not of like mind with moron Eric Clapton… It does stun me, a huge music fan, to think that I hadn’t seen a live concert since Starcrawler on October 14th in 2019. That seems like it was lifetime ago… and it feels like we’ve lived a lifetime in those almost two years.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m fully vaccinated. I’ve actually started to travel for work again. My corporate masters want me out there on the road and frankly I had missed it. I’d be lying though if I didn’t admit to feeling quite a bit of anxiety that first time I masked up and walked into Kansas City’s somewhat crowded airport. I’d been hiding in my attic ala Boo Radley for two years. Suddenly I’m amongst a crowd of people. It wasn’t agoraphobia but more of a fear of large crowds, whatever that’s called. As they said in the movie Barfly, “People, I just sorta feel better when they’re not around.” I couldn’t imagine going to a concert and most the bands I know had been cancelling everything until 2022. I hadn’t been out to the Ticketmaster website in, well, two years. I did stick my toe into the live music water, so to speak, a few weekends ago when I drove to the Harley Davidson dealership up by the airport to see some friends of mine the Sunset Sinners do a gig. But it was an outside thing in the parking lot with plenty of space.
The Rock Chick celebrated her birthday recently. In truth we celebrated that for about a week which is our wont around here. There’s no such thing as a birth “day.” I like to refer to the week around my birthday as the Festival of Me. The Rock Chick informed me a couple of weeks ago she had something planned for Sunday night, the 29th. She was, as usual, her mysterious self. The only hint I got was that I should take Monday off. At first I thought perhaps we were going to a movie, another thing we haven’t done in two years. But she mentioned to me yesterday while we were at the Nelson Atkins Museum that it was likely we would be standing all night. Cryptic, indeed. That ruled out a movie.
Finally around six last night, we jumped in the car and headed east. It was pretty soon I realized we were headed to the venerable Starlight Theater in Swope Park. She had surprised me on my birthday one year with Jim Gaffigan tickets (a brilliant comic). It was her birthday but I thought maybe she was going to surprise me with another comedy show. It was then she revealed that we were seeing a fabulous rock n roll double-bill, Cheap Trick and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts! I almost screamed! Starlight is such a great old theater and a wonderful place to see a concert. They used to only have musical theater stuff out there, but when I was in high school they opened it up to rock n roll concerts. My first show out there was to see Elton John with my family. I’ve seen some really great shows out there: David Bowie, Rush, Greta Van Fleet and Soundgarden to merely name a few. I knew we were in for a great evening. I will admit I felt that same anxiety that I’d felt at the airport when I found myself crowded into the throng of the crowd but that soon passed. Although admittedly no one was wearing masks in the men’s room which irked me. It’s public safety people.
Cheap Trick, to my surprise, opened the show. I thought for certain they’d be the headliners, but then I’m more into Cheap Trick and am still listening to their latest LP, In Another World. It was great to see these guys stroll out on the stage: Rick Nielson on guitar, his son Daxx on the drums, and Robin Zander in shiny black pants with blue stars on them on lead vocals/rhythm guitar. Cheap Trick are old school rock stars and Zander stands out amongst them. I knew immediately it wasn’t longtime member Tom Petersson on bass. Sadly, he had a recent heart procedure and had to sit this one out. Zander’s son Robin Taylor Zander pinch hit on bass and backing vocals. Robin Taylor also took lead vocalist duties on, I believe, “Downed.” The kid sounds just like his father. Daxx doesn’t play the drums with the aggression of Bun E. Carlos but he gets the job done. As Keith Richards would ask, “He rocks but does he roll?” Not like Bun E, sadly.
Cheap Trick rocked with an attitude. Nielsen was giving people shit in the audience. They opened with the track that opens At Budokan, “Hello There.” They then proceeded to do 19 rocking tracks over the course of an hour and half. They hit all the highlights – “Surrender,” “Ain’t That A Shame,” and “I Want You To Want Me.” Nielsen is a beast on lead guitar. I will admit some of his gimmicky guitars get a little old. He had trouble holding the 5-neck custom guitar on the encore… but hey he shredded on lead guitar. Robin Zander’s voice is as strong as it ever was. He sounded fantastic. His voice was strong, loud and on key. His son Robin Taylor was there on backing vocals to help with the high notes – although Zander didn’t need much help. I loved, especially, the raucous versions of “California Man” and my all time favorite Cheap Trick tune, “She’s Tight.” I was screaming on the chorus, “So I got off the phone” like I was in high school. The only ballad was “The Flame” toward the end of the main set. My only complaint – and it’s a nit – is I’d have liked more from the new LP. They only did two new tracks, the great “Summer Looks Good On You,” and “Another World (Reprise).” I’d have loved to have heard “Light Up the Fire,” an incendiary new track. These guys are consistently excellent. They played with the gusto they did when I saw them when I was in college. I’ll always come out for Cheap Trick.
After that, I was pretty blissed out and yet we still had Joan Jett & the Blackhearts to go! I’ve searched and scoured the internet to find out the names of the guys that were on stage with her last night. She did intro’s but I missed it. They looked younger than the Blackhearts on Wikipedia… The lead guitar player really rocked. He was on fire. I thought she called him Johnny. I’m embarrassed I can’t find his name. My inability to get their names doesn’t take away from the great job the drummer and the lead guitarist did. They had a hard edged, punk rock vibe that I really liked. It was like they turned Starlight into CBGB’s… Joan opened the set with “Victim of Circumstance” and then went into the great Runaways track (one of several), “Cherry Bomb.” That was a real highlight for me, as I’ve always dug the Runaways. “Bad Reputation” was absolutely priceless. The Springsteen penned “Light of Day” was another rocking highlight. They played a song I had never heard, but immediately purchased when I got home last night, “Soulmates to Strangers” that was an absolutely gorgeous track. Everyone should check that out because, well, we’ve all been there. There are subtle vocal things that Jett does on her records and she replicated all of them last night. Whether its an “oo” or an “ah” or a moan Jett made sure it was part of the performance. The last three songs of the main set were all killers: “I Love Rock N Roll,” “Crimson And Clover” and one both the Rock Chick and I’d forgotten, “I Hate Myself For Loving You.” The encore wrapped up with “Everyday People,” another highlight. It was 21 songs of a hard edged rock over the course of almost an hour and forty minutes. Joan Jett really impressed me. I find myself listening to her quite a bit this morning. She’s a rock n roll survivor and icon.
I’m sitting here on a Monday both exhausted and happy. I’m usually exhausted on Mondays, but never happy. My ears have a slight ring and I feel a little ragged. It’s so wonderful to have seen a rocking concert again. To spend an evening grooving on Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Cheap Trick was such a great way to end the birthday Festival of the Rock Chick. If these guys come near you, if you need some rock n roll, try and see them!