Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NAMM 2011: Cheap Trick at Grove of Anaheim

My review originally appeared on and can be viewed on the paper's Soundcheck blog.

Cheap Trick headlined an invite-only show at the Grove of Anaheim in conjunction with the NAMM trade show on Saturday night.

Schecter Guitars’ Ninth Annual Winter NAMM Party attracted plenty of people who were only there to schmooze. VIPs got inside early, where a DJ spun music from artists that use the Burbank company’s instruments.

A long line of concertgoers steadily grew impatient while watching other guests stroll right through the entrance for nearly two hours. Near the lower tiered Grove sections, one young female Cheap Trick fan admitted paying $100 for a NAMM badge on Craigslist and an older woman asked if the band was from the 1980s. I saw a guy decked out head to toe in checked attire – just like how guitarist Rick Nielsen used to dress in the group’s early days. Goth metal clown Fifi LaRue and his motley music crew also posed for photos nearby. 

Odd scenarios aside, Cheap Trick delivered the strongest performance I’ve ever witnessed the band do during an exhilarating 75-minute, 17-song set. Concentrating on the commercially successful late ‘70s heyday, they also included three songs from last year’s top notch studio release “The Latest” and a few rarities.

Rock groups that have been around for more than three decades without breaking up are a rare commodity. Even scarcer are ones who continue to make vibrant and compelling new material on a continual basis like Cheap Trick has done since the 2000s with “Special One” and “Rockford.” 

The original members - singer/guitarist Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson were joined onstage by touring personnel - longtime keyboardist/backing vocalist Phil “Magic” Cristian and Daxx Nielsen (Rick’s son). All were all in fine form throughout the evening.

Following a montage of Cheap Trick-related audio snippets (Japanese “Budokan” commercial, The Simpsons, live staging of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper”), they opened with an energetic “Way of the World.” Zander, who turns 58 next week, wore a police hat and had no trouble with the wailing chorus.

Rave up rocker “California Man,” the band’s popular cover by The Move, kept the party vibe going. Nielsen might be the elder at 64, but was still spry as ever, climbing up on a black box to engage in whammy bar action amid “On Top of the World” and various other times.

“It’s great to see so many musicians not working tonight,” quipped Nielsen, surveying the packed venue. They could definitely glean plenty of pointers watching these guys. Halfway through the gig, Cheap Trick was engaged in the rollicking, piano-led “The House is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)” when a girl tried to crowd surf and nearly fell to the floor (who expects that at a Cheap Trick show?).

A few selections later, another brazen female crashed the stage on “Sick Man of Europe,” nearly tackling Zander and causing him to lose his place in the song. To avoid security, she staged dived and ran through the middle of the Grove. What a wild and crazy concert. 

Orange County based alt-metal band Burn Halo also impressed with its half-hour opening slot. Fronted by riveting ex-Eighteen Visions singer James Hart, they played songs from the self-titled 2009 debut (top 40 mainstream rock radio hits “Save Me,” “Dirty Little Girl” – Avenged Sevenfold guitarist Synyster Gates guested on the latter’s studio version) and some promising new ones, bringing to mind a mix of AFI, Alice in Chains and Guns ‘N Roses

Cheap Trick, Grove of Anaheim, Jan. 15, 2011
Way of the World/California Man/Hot Love/On Top of the World/I Want You to Want Me/She’s Tight/High Roller/These Days/The House is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)/The Ballad of T.V. Violence (I’m Not the Only Boy)/Baby Loves to Rock/Sick Man of Europe/Closer, the Ballad of Burt and Linda/Surrender
Encore: Clock Strikes Ten/Dream Police/Gonna Raise Hell

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