Last night, when Cheap Trick rolled through town, Houston finally felt its first taste of winter weather. It was wet, cold and the winds were biting. Flanked by my son, who was visibly suffering from a cold, we marched through downtown, up the escalators and finally reached the House of Blues with pockets full of tissues. When Cheap Trick rolls through, no one has the time for a cold, including the band.
As the house lights dimmed and the stage lights came up, the band hit the stage in waves.
First out was the rhythm section of Tom Petersson on bass and Daxx Nielsen on drums. Then, vocalist, Robin Zander, hit the stage with a guitar strapped on, tearing into the beginning of Hello There, right before guitarist Rick Nielsen emerged from the shadows to kick the set into full gear.
‘Hello There’ merged seamlessly into Come On, Come On, which brought out the background singers in the audience full force. It was after this song that Nielsen, with an unusually gravel-filled voice, informed the audience that he “felt like shit.” Then, before the audience could sympathize for a moment, he bluntly stated, “Yep, I’m sick, but screw it!” as he kicked into the opening of Oh Candy.
Zander held down the rock poses, Nielsen showered the audience in guitar picks and a seemingly endless stream of guitars as the set progressed and the rhythm section kept it all together.
Despite the members of Cheap Trick getting up there in years and having driven the course of being a rock band for nearly 40 years, they sounded amazing. Zander’s vocals were true to the voice you heard on albums of your youth, Nielsen kept the riffs flying out, Petersson’s 12-string bass sounded huge through his collection of amps on the stage and the younger-Nielsen held down the back beat just as Bun E. Carlos did many years ago.
Petersson even took a turn as frontman on a cover of The Velvet Underground’s Waiting For My Man, which was led off by an extended bass solo that displayed how much of the Cheap Trick’s large sound is attributed to the low-end side of things. The little break from the norm gave the rest of Nielsen and Zander the chance to patrol the stage catering to the audience for a while.
The hits rolled on through the night: Big Eyes, Stiff Competition, The Flame, I Want You to Want Me and Dream Police filled out the main set beautifully. As Dream Police closed, in a moment reminiscent of James Brown, a roadie ran out to shroud an “exhausted” Zander in a glittery jacket complete with a Dream Police badge. Then, Zander jumped back to life and brought the set to close with a grand finale.
Of course, that was not the end. Cheap Trick is a rock n’ roll band and, as their name alludes to, they leave no trick unperformed. After a few moments of applause given to the empty stage, the band returned and kicked into their signature tune, Surrender.
The audience exploded into dancing and singing while the band brought it home. My son and I screamed along through sore throats. How could we not? Nielsen told us he had a shot from a doctor waiting for him after the show and he still rocked his heart out.
Then, as quickly as it began, the notes of Goodnight hit and Cheap Trick was headed out of town for a few days off before kicking it back up until the new year. There is something to be said for a band that created rock n’ roll brilliance still delivering songs that are close to 40 years old with the same amount of fun and energy as they did so many performances ago. Rock n’ roll happened on this night, my friends, and it was beautiful.