“How can you resist the impressive Robin Zander or the charismatic Rick Nielsen?” There he is, Mike Damone, jamming that air guitar, trying to scalp Cheap Trick tickets to the bitty in the bleachers. It is 1982 and here comes Jennifer Jason Leigh bumming him out with news she’s impregnated. Yowza! Talk about a coming-of-age soufflé. Secret abortions! Phoebe Cates! Power chords!
But the takeaway, which you’ll understand if you’re free on Sunday night and can get over to Lynn Auditorium, is to remember that “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is clearly fiction. How else to explain why Damone can’t get Cheap Trick tickets off his hands in ’82. Sure, the boys were experiencing what we in the nostalgia business politely call a market correction. But Rockford, Illinois’s finest were far from done.
What should you know about Cheap Trick? “Live at Budokan,” the band’s essential live record, came out almost exactly 35 years ago. Their catalog also includes “Surrender,” “Southern Girls,” and “Dream Police.” They made a record with Beatles mentor George Martin and almost backed John Lennon on “Double Fantasy.” (Listen to the version of “I’m Losing You” — it’s on the John Lennon Anthology — recorded with guitarist Nielsen and Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos, and tell me it doesn’t sound better than the slicker version that showed up on Lennon’s final album.) Oh, and who sings a cover of Big Star’s “In The Street” in the opening for “That ‘70s Show?” Yep. You got it.
Say what you will about Cheap Trick, but if you do go see them and haven’t checked in since the days of “Welcome Back, Kotter,” you’ll be shocked. Shocked that they sound as good as ever. The only blow is losing Carlos, who either quit or was kicked out and is now embroiled in a lawsuit with his former mates. Otherwise, they are of the ’70s but not trapped in the ’70s. That’s because Cheap Trick’s brand of power pop hasn’t aged. They’re not as schmaltzy as Styx or Journey, as studio-based as Boston, or as obsessed with staying current as Aerosmith. I know this is going to lead to endless angry e-mails, but it’s only fair to mention: Those other bands simply don’t hold up against Cheap Trick. (Notice that I say nothing about classic Van Halen or AC/DC.)
The boys don’t look all that bad as they storm past Social Security eligibility. Or, better put, they don’t look much worse than they ever did. Nielsen has that ever-present baseball cap — he was trying to hide his hair loss in 1976 — and his famous five-neck guitar. Robin Zander wears big hats, and has long hair, so if you just squint your eyes you don’t see a wrinkle. Bassist Tom Petersson, briefly gone in the ’80s, is a handsome, older gent.
What matters most is the sound. Go to Lynn, open your ears and when the boys get to the chorus of “I Want You to Want Me,” tell me you don’t find yourself strumming along with your best Mike Damone.Geoff Edgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.