by Mike Corrigan
As much as any punks of the time, the members of CHEAP TRICK recognized the bloated, pompous, boring old fart that commercial rock in the mid '70s had become. With Rick Nielson's bag of guitar tricks and goofy stage persona, vocalist Robin Zander's flair for both melody and phrasing and the solid, driving bass and drum of Tom Petersson and Bun E. Carlos, this quartet from Rockford, Ill., was as refreshing and exciting as anything on (or off) the dial. Cheap Trick was an arena band with the ability to thrill -- edgy, power popsters playing loud, fun music that was also smart and, often, wickedly funny.
Fans of the band take note: Cheap Trick is alive and well, still performing and recording new material. The current tour brings them to Silver Mountain on Sunday. Though their heyday has come and gone, the band (still comprised of all the original members) steadfastly refuses to devolve into a sluggish, uninspired "oldies act."
"We walk the line between doing oldies stuff and new stuff," says drummer, Bun E. Carlos. "I mean, if we do a gig and don't do 'I Want You To Want Me' or 'Surrender' or 'Dream Police,' all hell would break loose. But if you don't keep doing new stuff, you know, what's the point?"
Considering the glitzy, gimmicky era from which they emerged, it's amazing how well the group's songs hold up -- in particular those from their first three albums (let's call them the "holy trinity") -- hold up. But it's really no mystery. Cheap Trick, In Color and Heaven Tonight feature great songwriting, dark humor and a satisfying sonic assault -- an unbeatable combination in any decade. "Surrender" (from Heaven Tonight), for example, is utterly ageless -- a classic rock anthem full of absurd lyrical twists (the singer discovers his own parents making out on the couch, "rolling numbers" and listening to his Kiss records), finished off with an impossibly catchy chorus.
Much of this timeless quality can be attributed to the fact that the band purposely eschewed then-current trends in favor of a stripped-down, direct approach to writing, performing and most importantly, recording.
"You know, the producers back in those days, like Tom Werman, when we did Heaven Tonight, had that brand new syn-drum that made that stupid [Carlos accurately imitates the sound of a synthetic drum sound]. And he was going, 'Oh we gotta put this on there,' and I was like, 'You gotta be kidding.' It sounded like The Gong Show. If we would have put that on there, it would have branded it as being from 1978. Those records hold up because the songs are real good, and there's not a lot of gimmicks on them. If you don't go in there and gick it all up with frills and goofy stuff, it doesn't age as much."
Surely the band wasn't thinking in those terms at the time.
"Heck no. Of course not. We were just doing what felt right to us. Luckily, we didn't try all that dumb stuff they wanted us to do."
After 25 years together and enduring shifting industry trends, the fickle tastes of the music-buying public and the loss (and subsequent re-upping) of Petersson, the members of Cheap Trick recognize just how unique their guitar-bass-drum ensemble is among the hordes of the reformed and the reunited.
"We still enjoy it and all that," says Carlos. "We realize how -- I don't know what the word is -- how precious it is. It's something that we treasure. If we didn't have the original lineup, you know, forget it. We'll occasionally do oldies dates, and we'll be playing with contemporaries of ours and, yeah, most of the time, half of the guys in the band we never saw before. Who are these guys? It's gotta be rough for some of these bands like Foghat and their lead singer dies or something. Then what do you do?"
Carlos says the band's current song list is peppered with nuggets spanning the group's entire career -- including songs from their well-received 1997 indie release. But he knows what most of the fans at Sunday's show will be aching -- no, begging -- for. The guys in Cheap Trick are rock fans, too, you know.
"It's fun to play the old stuff because it gets such a good reception. But you can't mess around with them too much. I know Don Henley is doing "Hotel California" this summer with a reggae arrangement. And the only thing I've heard about that," he laughs, "is how everyone's pissed off about it."
Cheap Trick plays with ex-Urge Overkill guitarist Nash Kato opening the show at the Silver Mountain Amphitheater on Sunday, Aug. 20, at 3 pm. Tickets: $22.50-$28.50. Call: 325-SEAT.
Who Were You?
In 1969, when I was four years old, we lived in San Francisco at Hunter's Point, on a cliff above Candlestick Park. My mom says when they played rock concerts at Candlestick Park, we could hear the music in our house. Now I happen to know that while I lived there, THE WHO played the 'Stick. While the only thing I remember about the place was my dog and my sandbox, I've long ago decided that on that special night, my bedroom window was open, and I took in the sounds of the crowd, caught the chorus of "I Can See For Miles" and maybe even heard the splintering sounds of Pete Townshend's guitar getting smashed on the stage at the end of the show. I can't prove any of this, of course, but it would sure explain a lot.
Fast forward about 15 years: After surviving high school life in Spokane, characterized by FM radio dominated by the likes of Van Halen and the Scorpions, I went to Seattle for college, where my Who memories would be revived and bloom into full-bore hero worship. After a roommate who had all the band's albums -- and all Townshend's solo albums -- I was hooked. Amazingly (since the band has already been on, like, three farewell tours), the Who plays the Gorge on Saturday night.
While it may have taken me a while to discover something long held dear to millions of rock 'n' roll fans, I quickly understood where Who fans fit into the natural order. As perhaps the afterthought of the three major British Invasion bands, Who fans proudly straddle that middle ground between the knee-jerk popularity and, at times, bubblegummy sounds of the Beatles and the faux bad boy act of the Rolling Stones. Not to put those bands down too much, since they both deserve their place at the top of the rock 'n' roll universe, but Who songs were much deeper, with lyrics about the alienation of youth that were more than just catchy -- they were genuine. It was music that moved not just your emotions but your intellect.
The Who's shadow still covers much of what you see in rock music. Their rock operas (Tommy, Quadrophenia), while mocked in films like Spinal Tap, influenced many bands that had panoramic stories to tell, from Pink Floyd to Smashing Pumpkins. Live at Leeds, a recording the band made in 1971, featured rambling jams loosely based on songs like "Magic Bus" and "My Generation." Such noodlings, also being explored by the Stones at the time, fed the fire of fandom that enabled bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish to gain such loyal followings. And the sheer noise of that recording (the band later won the distinction via The Guinness Book of World Records as the world's loudest band) would inspire any number of arena rockers, punks and grungers. Even electronic music can trace its roots to the Who, as it was the first band to use a synthesizer on a record (immortalized so memorably on "Baba O'Riley," the first track of Who's Next).
But the band also lived within the cult of personality, just like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Bass player John Entwistle appealed to the pre-Goth crowd with his macabre compositions like "Boris the Spider." Keith Moon was all energy and an innovator on the drums, as he had a 16-piece kit before anybody else, and he incorporated the rolling sounds of surf music into his frenetic -- but perfect -- timekeeping. Moon died of sheer excess just after Who Are You came out in 1978, leaving the band with an impossible-to-fill void ever since. Roger Daltrey was the sexy frontman who inspired their original fans, England's clean-cut, scooter-riding fanatical Mods of the early- and mid-1960s. As the band's songs got more epic, his vocals rose to the challenge, with enough earnestness to pull it off.
But it's always been Townshend's band -- even though an early manager advised the rest of the band to kick him out because his nose was too big to make the girls swoon. As one of rock music's literary giants (if there is such a thing), Townshend's creative juices -- born of teen angst and sustained throughout his career by spiritual seeking and middle-age retriangulation -- spawned one of the greatest bodies of musical work we will probably ever see.
But Townshend also has been the poster child for what happens to aging rockers, perhaps for penning that fateful line that could apply to any angry young man from any era: "Hope I die before I get old."
"I'm becoming more and more ordinary as I go along," Townshend says. "This is the natural progression of boring maturity and boring spirituality and boring ascendance of the evolutionary path. You become simpler and simpler and more and more down to the simple ways of life to become able to blunder through life without getting anybody uptight at all."
Although those words sound like they could have been uttered last week, he actually said that in an interview with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner in 1968. That simple and ordinary post-1968 life he was talking about included the artfulness of writing Tommy (which he took to Broadway more than 20 years later), the sheer power of the band's arena tours, the avant-garde diversion of his solo career and plenty of making people uptight.
Let's face it, despite what he might tell you, Pete Townshend and the Who have been anything but ordinary and simple. If they had been, I probably would have slept right through that night up above Candlestick Park and never gotten bit by the Who bug in the first place.
-- Ted S. McGregor, Jr.
The Who plays the Gorge on Saturday, Aug. 19, at 7 pm. Tickets: $45-$125. Call: (509) 735-0500. Or check www.hob.com.
Get an Earful
A couple weeks ago, we reported the relocation of one of the Inland Northwest's best music stores, the Long Ear CDs and Tapes in Coeur d'Alene. Now that the dust has settled from the big move, owners Deon and Terry Borchard and their team of music experts are throwing a party. It's something they've wanted to do for a long time. They just never had the room before. At their spacious new store (just a bottle rocket's flight down the road from their old location) they have plenty of room to rock. They're calling Saturday's shindig EAR FEST. It's free, and you're invited.
More than 20 local and regional performers and radio celebrities will be in the house at one of three different listening areas.
"We'll have all the electric stuff going outside in the back," explains Deon. "Then on the south side of the building, we're gonna have DJs spinning records and on the inside, we'll have acoustic stuff. It'll be a great big, huge earful of music."
Artists scheduled to appear include (are you ready?) Trip, Five Foot Thick, Melafluent, the Bone Daddies, Phat Pharm, Doug Porter, Tim "Too Slim" Langford, Jesse Lassandro, Muse, Noah Beck, Drum Circle, Elua, Johnny Deathstar, O2N, Disco-phile, T-Spoon, Ryan, Prime 8 and Cinch.
Sound good? Well, Deon assures us that free tunes are only the beginning.
"We have hundreds of T-shirts, CDs and autographed posters to give away, too. Even some of the label reps are going to try to make it. The labels like us, probably because we've been in business so long. There's no other place quite exactly like the Long Ear."
-- Mike Corrigan
Ear Fest at the Long Ear, 2405 N. Fourth St. (between I-90 & amp; Appleway), Coeur d'Alene, is on Saturday, Aug. 19, from noon-10 pm. Free. Call: (208) 765-3472.
Spawned on the Coeur d'Alene coffeehouse scene about three years ago, BEAD made the trek down the double yellow line of Interstate 90 for a taste of life in the Emerald City last year. To realize their destiny. To maybe get a shot at fame. The boys are back in town for two shows this weekend.
Well, after a lineup shakeup (original members Jake Greenslitt and Tyler Coffey are now joined by three new players), a lot of hard work and a little luck, the group has been signed to Seattle's Illusion Records and is currently working on an album due to be released sometime in early 2001.
Bead's 1999 self-produced debut, No One Looks Cool Waiting In Line is full of acoustic/electric guitar-based rock and pop (ala Pearl Jam) that is smart, infectious, upbeat and oh-so radio-friendly.
-- Mike Corrigan
Bead plays at Mik-N-Macs in Coeur d'Alene on Thursday, Aug. 17, and at Ichabod's North in Spokane on Friday, Aug. 18. Both shows start at 10 pm. Cover: $5. Call: 328-5720.