In a world of uncertainty and unpredictability, it's nice to know that some things remain constant. It's a pretty safe assumption that when attending a concert by favored sons of Rockford, Ill., Cheap Trick, you're going to get a loud, energetic blast of pure, unadulterated rock 'n roll. Every time.
Friday night's nearly sold-out show at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall was certainly no exception. For a band that's been at it for nearly 40 years with minimal lineup changes, Cheap Trick still know how to thrill fans and give them plenty of bang for their buck. Making it to the stage following brief opening sets by local act Stormbringer and a solo performance by lead singer Robin Zander's son, the band got things off to a rollicking start with their signature kickoff tune, "Hello There."
As is usually the case, Zander's voice was in fine, ferocious form. As he belted out each line with urgency and force, Robin, a local Tampa Bay resident, gave the hometown crowd plenty to cheer about. A crowd who, incidentally, stood, sang along and rocked out for most of the night.
Dressed from head to toe in black and sporting a police cap, Zander plowed his way through some real gems from the Trick songbook. Launching into thumping glam rock anthem "Elo Kiddies" off the band's brilliant 1977 self-titled debut, and only two songs deep into their set, Cheap Trick essentially tipped their hats to the long-time, die hard fans who've stuck with them through several decades.
Lead guitarist and prankster Rick Nielsen showed off his impressive guitar collection throughout the entire night. As guitar techs made their way to the stage following every number, Nielsen cycled through a diversity of axes including one with the faces of the Fab Four emblazoned on it, another sporting the band's trademark checkerboard pattern, and "Uncle Dick," a double-necked cut to look like a cartoon caricature of the guitarist himself.
Quiet but solid bassist Tom Petersson showed off his own impressive array of custom bass guitars and took over lead singing duties for "I Know What I Want," his vocal contribution to 1979's Dream Police.
Longtime figurehead drummer Bun E. Carlos has been replaced by Daxx Nielsen, son of Rick, and his rock solid skin bashing is more than adequate to bolster the band's powerful punch. The all-too-familiar drum solo that kicks off Cheap Trick's version of the Fats Domino classic "Ain't That A Shame" sounded note perfect as Daxx furiously pounded it out.
The band's tight, compact 90-minute set contained all the massive hits Cheap Trick is known for and some likely not recognizable to the casual fan. While the lesser known "Borderline" (from 1983's Next Position Please) might not have been as well received as the classic "I Want You To Want Me," it didn't stop the bulk of the crowd from continuing to stand and enjoying the band's night-long rock extravaganza.
Nielsen hurled out hundreds of guitar picks as he usually does during "Dream Police"; shtick that never fails to excite a crowd as fans hurriedly scour the floor for any strays. Zander strummed an acoustic guitar while churning out the band's biggest hit and their bona fide power ballad "The Flame."
Ending the night with the audience gleefully singing along to another one of the band's anthems "Surrender" followed by barn burner "Clock Strikes Ten" wrapped things up on a high, energetic note.
True to form, Cheap Trick more than pleased a crowd of varying ages (including a dead ringer for comedian Larry David perched front row center that Rick Nielsen chided and called out from center stage) like they always do. Every time.
Tonight It's You
If You Want My Love
I Can't Take It
Ain't That A Shame
I Know What I Want
Stop This Game
That 70's Song (In The Street)
I Want You To Want Me
Sick Man of Europe
Never Had A Lot To Lose
Clock Strikes Ten