Puffing on an extra-long cigarette, Robin Zander finally lost patience with the past. For two-thirds of an informal, post-concert question-and-answer session with his band, Cheap Trick, last Thursday night, fans gushed over the lead singer and his bandmates, first professing their love, then following their compliments with either anecdotes recounting long-gone concerts or questions about the availability of material recorded in the 1970s. Drummer and band archivist Bun E. Carlos was finishing an answer about rarities and reissues when Zander cut in, dryly but firmly: "And we have a new album coming out."
Crocodile, October 8-10
The crowd of diehards clapped, but Cheap Trick's future was the last thing on their minds. The band had landed in Seattle for three nights, touring in support of remastered CD reissues of its first three studio albums—Cheap Trick, In Color, and Heaven Tonight—initially released during a 24-month burst of creativity in 1977 and '78. Each night's concert focused on material from one of the albums. The three retreads represent the band's strongest work, and the crowd, which paid $28 a piece to pack themselves into the Crocodile like Satanic metaphors in a Black Sabbath record was more interested in the end of the '70s than anything that might happen at the end of the century.
Given the screaming, resounding life the Tricksters were able to pour into their Jurassic material over the three-day concert series, there was no reason to look to the band's future or less successful middling past for solid rocking. Thursday through Saturday, Cheap Trick served up pure pop for then and now people, proving that 21 years and innumerable shifts in the vagaries of rock taste-making had done nothing to blunt the edgy power in its first three LPs.
Trick's first album is somber, driven by loud, unpolished guitar sounds, rants, and intense states of mind. As such, it's meatier than any that followed, a cult favorite that received little airplay. Tunes like "He's a Whore" and "Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School" are painted with shades of cynicism so bleak it took 20 years of sequential pop-rock one-downsmanship for audiences to appreciate the arid sarcasm at their core. Trick pounded them out Thursday—the best night of the three—with near reverential care, bringing back sonic magic undiluted by two decades in mothballs.
Friday and Saturday, Trick fell comfortably into the larger-than-life personae of its glory years. The albums featured on those nights had lofted the band to arena-rock godhood, and each album's material has never been far from the band's set list. Friday's high point came on a gritty version did the honors on Friday, showing themselves to be an exceptional live act. The big news, however, took the stage Saturday night, when superstars Pearl Jam put on an engaging and far-too-brief set. of "You're All Talk," a less frequently heard gem. Saturday's defining moments shone through the moody "Heaven Tonight," the featured CD's title track.
Opening acts for each night were not announced until showtime. Thursday, the Young Fresh Fellows kept things light with their brand of good-natured garage pop. Local turbo-punksters Supersuckers The Crocodile's intimate setting showed the band to be not only fine songwriters and masters of their studio domain, but all-around nice guys who can still be rock fans—and Cheap Trick fans—just like the rest of us.