Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander - photo by Russell Kershaw
The three-ring circus that is Cheap Trick’s Rick, Robin and Tom, came to town the Thursday before Father’s Day to play a sold-out show at Madison’s The Sylvee and the sense of family was thick; from Rick’s son on drums and Robin’s son on guitar and backing vocals to the hugs and hellos flowing around the box office, glory days and nostalgia mixed with a beautiful summer night. The crowd itself favored Empty Nesters, but a few youth and families came to witness that by all accounts was an extra special night of rock. Between baptizing the new venue from a band that in all likelihood played every size venue in Madison at one time or another, celebrating both WIBA’s fiftieth anniversary and forty years since their chart-busting, “Cheap Trick At Budokan,” the, “Greatest Fucking Band in the World,” responded with non-stop rock featuring Link Wray raves, Bo Diddley mischief and Johnny Thunder rumble bouncing from deep cuts to big hits, friendly front-stage banter and roaming showmanship tearing through a twenty-song set that brought the fun out in everyone.
“Here’s one from our latest album; I bought one,” said clown prince and resident shredder Rick Nielsen, “It’s got four chords and we play most of them.” Showering the Sylvee with guitar picks, nicked riffs and twisted licks, Rick played to the side-stage photographers magically disappearing then appearing with a new guitar. From the Beatles embossed axe pulled out for a thundering version of, “Magical Mystery Tour, ” to Jeff Beck’s vintage Esquire on display during, “Voices,” and the five-necked beast that appeared only as a trophy near the final minutes, there seemed to be a guitar for every occasion.
Musical pyrotechnics were not restricted to guitars as Daxx Nielsen ravaged his kit throughout the romps, stomps and barn-burners while a jaw-dropping twelve-string bass solo from Tom preceded his turn at lead vocals covering the Velvet Underground’s, “Waiting for the Man.” Loose, yet spot on, the energetic chemistry between everyone fueled earth-shattering fanfares, rampaging jams and block-buster ballads.
Singer, songwriter and frontman Robin wore many hats, both figuratively and literally during the hundred minute set; leading the crowd with a riveting, “We’re all alright,” trading guitar barbs in, “California Man,” and searching for Tom when he disappeared at the beginning of, “I Want You To Want Me.” Quick with a smile, ageless in his reviving thirty-year old hits, Robin’s ringmaster panache set a high standard from the opener, “Hello There,” to the final song, “Good Night Now,” with occasional rests to thank Madison, the opening band and remind everyone they’ll be opening for ZZ Top September 4th at Milwaukee’s BMO Harris Pavilion.
A situation arose where I was unable to see the opener, Rockford outfit Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts, led by one of Rick’s sons, but I could hear them blast away while local legend Art Paul serenaded the scalpers, late arrivals and smokers. By all appearances, a nice warm-up for a fiery night of sizzling rock ‘n roll.