Cheap Trick Dug Deep Into Their Early Years Saturday at The Bomb Factory

Cheap Trick
With Ian Moore and the American Fuse
The Bomb Factory, Dallas
Saturday, November 7, 2015

When Cheap Trick comes to town, they usually have to stick to the hits. Whether they're playing Billy Bob's or opening for Aerosmith, the set list doesn't veer too far from the songs that made them legendary power poppers. But their set on Saturday night at The Bomb Factory was a near two-hour, 20-song delight for fans of the band's early days. Sure, they played "Surrender," "Dream Police" and "I Want You to Want Me," but without a new album or reissue to promote in 2015, they played whatever they wanted to. That included a lot of fantastic cuts from their first four classic albums, especially Cheap Trick, In Color and Heaven Tonight

Locals the American Fuse started the night with 30 minutes of greasy glam and Austin's own Ian Moore did 40 minutes of enjoyable Hendrix-infused blues. But the almost full, mostly over-40 crowd could not wait for Cheap Trick, who finally came on at 10 p.m. Fresh off an appearance at Fun Fun Fun Fest, Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson and Daxx Nielsen had the crowd firmly in the palm of their hands as they played one tune after another. Half of the venue's floor was devoted to a seating area, but most of the people in the seats stood up the entire time. 

Cheap Trick might have had an identity crisis between the '70s and '90s, but that never prevented them from finding a great middle ground between influences like the British Invasion, the blues and hard rock. Zander, 62, was decked out in all white, and he continued to defy the odds by hitting every high note just like he did in the '70s. He is still one of the best vocalists in rock and one of its most engaging frontmen. Rick Nielsen was up to his usual goofiness, switching between an array of guitars, cracking jokes and throwing dozens of guitar picks into the audience — all without missing a note. 

Petersson, with his trademark 12-string bass, got a chance to play an extended solo and took lead vocals on a cover of the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man." The tune had been performed live all the way back before Cheap Trick released their first album, and it still sounded good on Saturday night. As a bonus, Petersson included a few lines from another Velvet tune, "Heroin." While it might have been a bathroom break song for some, it made for a nice detour from the expected.

As for Daxx Nielsen, the longtime live replacement for Bun E. Carlos, he did an adequate job on the drums. Carlos is not an easy drummer to emulate, as he mixed swing feels with a bluesy looseness for all those years he played with the band. So there's an inherent difficulty in playing the songs precisely. Daxx had a great sense of rhythm, but certain songs early in the set felt a little off, like "Big Eyes" and "Hot Love." Whether it was tempo choice or not, Carlos' absence was noticeable. Yet on songs like "The Flame" and "Surrender," he was right on target. 
Speaking of "The Flame," while the song has to be played live given its popularity, it still sticks out as an odd duck for the band's material. The band was forced to include it on 1988's Lap of Luxury and the mixed blessing of its massive popularity continues. A good ballad, but this is the same band that has produced such songs as "He's a Whore," "Stiff Competition" and "Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School."

For their encore, the still-unreleased "Bang Zoom Crazy Hello" was performed with Nate Fowler and Kinley Wolfe from the American Fuse on backing vocals. But that was it for material released after 1988. Though Cheap Trick have put out quality material in the past 20 years, it's understandable that they don't often play songs from those years, due to familiarity. Fowler stayed on and sang some lead vocals on "Surrender," one of the best parts of the night. The crowd and the band were one as they celebrated Mommy being alright and Daddy being alright. Ending with "Goodnight," which recycles music and lyrics from "Hello There," Cheap Trick left the stage to constant cheers. They could have played more, but ultimately it was the right balance of playing a lot without overstaying.

Set list:
"Hello There"
"Big Eyes"
"California Man"
"On Top of the World"
"He's a Whore"
"Southern Girls"
"Stiff Competition"
"Need Your Love"
"Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School"
"Heaven Tonight"
"Magical Mystery Tour"
"I'm Waiting for the Man"
"The Flame"
"I Want You to Want Me"
"Dream Police"
"Bang Zoom Crazy Hello"

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