Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Want You To Want Me

House of Blues
West Hollywood, CA

1. Hello There
2. That '70s Song
3. California Man
4. High Roller
5. Oh, Candy
6. If You Want My Love
7. She's Tight
8. Heaven Tonight
9. Magical Mystery Tour
10. I Want You To Want Me
11. Voices
12. Downed
13. Ghost Town
14. Surrender
15. Goodnight
16. Dream Police
17. Just Got Back

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine, a veteran music journalist whose time in the biz makes mine seem like that of a greenhorn, and he lit up when I told him I saw Cheap Trick last night. "One of the great rock and roll bands..." he chimed, his voice humming as he said 'rock and roll,' "I'd love to see Cheap Trick." To which I replied, "I wish more people felt that way... They've got to be one of the most underrated bands in music."

He didn't agree that they're underrated, and asked me to explain... Well, AC/DC just played two sold-out nights at the Forum here in Los Angeles, filling more than 30,000 seats for the two shows. Cheap Trick performed two nights at the House of Blues, the second night having pre-sales well under 300 even though the magic of last-minute marketing/papering made the room look pretty decent by the time the Rockford, IL, quartet took the stage. Sure, tickets were $70 (that's nearly $1/minute for the 75-minute set) in an economy where $70 can go a long way heading into the holiday season, and it probably doesn't help that the shows went on-sale months ago, when gas in the So-Cal netherworld was flirting with $5/gallon. But this is still Cheap Trick we're talking about, not some gangly crew of flavor-of-the-week teenagers selling out at half that price! AC/DC can sell 30,000 tickets, and Cheap Trick bustle in at just over 1,000 - Not to knock AC/DC, but what's up with that?

In a word, perception. While Cheap Trick have the edge in hits, they lose their edge in image. AC/DC are a heavy metal monster truck, spitting flames from their ass and blowing smoke through their nostrils. It might not be the car you want to drive cross country, but hot-damn it's one fun place to hitch a ride. Cheap Trick are the dependable family wagon with wood paneling on the side and luggage tied to the rooftop and covered by a waterproof tarp. AC/DC are formulaic and kitsch, inviting audiences to get lost in their world of camp. Cheap Trick could also be accused of being formulaic - in as much as three decades of rock-solid songwriting, killer hooks and lush melodies can make someone formulaic - but despite themselves remain credibly fashionable. Both bands are fun as hell and could share a stage in a heartbeat, yet remain as different as night and day.

AC/DC release an album, tour their asses off, then disappear for a presidential term or two. Cheap Trick tour their asses off, only stopping long enough to record an album in between jaunts before returning to the road. When AC/DC tours it is an event; when Cheap Trick tours it's another chance to see one of the greatest bands of all time. If Cheap Trick toured twice a decade, they'd be packing arenas, but that's not the way they roll. They're road dogs, and they love to perform. They love their music, whether it's in front of 20,000 fans opening for Journey and Heart, or in front of 500 fans at a criminally under-attended L.A. club show. That said, one might say that a $70 tickets for a 75-minute show is criminal, as well. A friend we were watching the show with commented on how cool it is to see Cheap Trick in such a small venue. Another friend retorted that it would be a lot cooler if they didn't do it so often. Touche.

A little math: Two tickets to see Cheap Trick at the House of Blues: $140. Valet parking at House of Blues, including tip: $17. Dinner at House of Blues (two entrees, two desserts, two drinks, tip): $75. Four drinks during show (two each, including tips): $38. All things considered, it's a $275 night. And if you need a babysitter? You've topped the $300 mark. Even without the bells and whistles of a grown-up night out, Cheap Trick have still priced themselves out of the range of the casual fan. AC/DC, meanwhile, offer a ticket for half the price, with ten times the spectacle. In a world where people want bang for their buck, AC/DC shake you all night long and Cheap Trick want you to want them. A little bit of shaking goes a long way, and you can't always get what you want. 'Nuff said about that.

The joy is, none of this truly matters to Cheap Trick. At least, it doesn't seem to. AC/DC might out-gross them, but it's all shades of gray, because both bands are massively successful, both bands have had legendary careers, and both bands deliver everything they promise, and more, every time out there. Yeah, if Cheap Trick did things differently they might have more teenagers at their shows, but the argument can be made that while AC/DC grab them when they're young, lose them in the middle, and bring 'em back for some nostalgia when their older, Cheap Trick grab 'em when they're old enough to truly appreciate great music, and never lose 'em at all.

I didn't catch AC/DC this go-round. It's their first tour I missed in 20 years, and I didn't feel a tinge of regret. Everyone who saw the show confirmed my suspicion - It was a decent show, but if you've seen them before, you've been there, done that. Cheap Trick, on the other hand? I've seen them at least three times in the last two years. That may not be much next to the fans that flew cross-country to see their House of Blues twin-bill, but it's enough to know that as many times as I see them, I won't grow tired of their seamless musicianship, razor-sharp wit and rich musical history.

Whether they're dishing out their classics, covering the Beatles or the Move, or digging into KISS bassist Gene Simmons (enjoying the show from the VIP balcony) with some tongue-in-cheek barbs about firing fellow band members before an impromptu tear into "Love Gun," every Cheap Trick show offers something special to make it memorable. In a day-and-age where bands change musicians like most of us change light bulbs, to see the same four guys still delivering, better than ever, in their fourth decade, says a lot... And it doesn't even start to tell the story of the Cheap Trick.

That is why Cheap Trick are one of the most underrated bands in music.

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Click here for an archived review of Cheap Trick's 11.02.06 performance at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.

1 comment:

Adam Bernard said...


You're one of the first people I've seen factor a potential babysitter into a concert night, but it makes a lot of sense. Shoot, with the number of single moms in the dating pool it's a huge aspect of a night out. Tix, dinner, drinks and a sitter.

And I know what you're waiting for, an obligatory Adam B joke about how if the date doesn't goes well at least you can score with the babysitter... and there you have it.