February 17, 2019
A weekend is a terrible thing to waste. Working all week and then having limited options for weekend activities during the winter months makes it tough to unwind before having to go back to the daily grind. For the most part, I am not an outdoors guy in the Winter months and staying indoors during those months makes developing a case of cabin fever all too easy. I also don’t like wasting weekends. Looking for ways to escape the boredom, I started to think of something to do to get out of the house. My first thought when this happens is usually to see what bands are playing. I happened to get an email during the week that Cheap Trick was playing this weekend at the Hard Rock Casino, which is fast becoming one of my favorite places to see a show. I had seen Generation Axe there a few months ago and really enjoyed the experience of traveling there and hanging out. What could be better than a Rock/Guitar themed concert venue? Not being a big Cheap Trick fan (though we’ve all heard their hits like “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender”), they are a guitar-based band and I’d heard they put on a good show so I decided to roll the dice and check them out.
Saturday afternoon: We had gotten there early and checked out some of the other attractions going on in the area. I dropped a little cash into the slot machines and got to play a while (which is all you really can hope to expect), gotten some dinner, mulled around the Rock exhibits and generally soaked up the experience. A few weeks earlier, Def Leppard’s Rick Allen had been there exhibiting his artwork at The Wentworth Gallery, which is located inside the venue. I checked out a couple of his paintings (which were amazing, by the way) and talked to one of the Reps about his work. He encouraged me to come back the next time Allen had a showing. About 7:30 PM we made our way into the same theater at The Hard Rock as I had seen Generation Axe – “The Sugar Factory.” Due to start at 8PM, we waited patiently until the band came on at 8:30. They opened up with “Hello There” followed by “Big Eyes” and “California Man.” Then they strolled through a number of songs such as covering The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” and Fats Domino’s “Aint That a Shame”, doing the hit “If You Want My Love” in between. “Voices”, “I Want You to Want Me” and their mega-hit “The Dream Police” followed. For encores, they did “Never Had a Lot to Lose”, “Surrender” and “Goodnight Now.” Sadly, they didn’t play my favorite of theirs – “The Flame” but I had already gambled and lost so I wasn’t that disappointed.
The show played out to be exactly what the band is – nothing flashy, just a group of working men playing working men’s (and women’s) songs. They were upbeat, entertaining and above all – fun! Guitarist Rick Nielsen continually talked to the crowd, cracking jokes and playing to every part of the stage so that everyone was engaged in the show. There was another thing which I thought was very cool: he would go to the front of the audience and encourage them to touch whatever guitar he was playing or even strum the strings. He did this continually, in between making jokes to the audience and even mouthing “I fucked up” when he mistakenly (or perhaps on purpose) flubbed part of a guitar solo. Singer Robin Zander sounded as good as he always has – a bit of a rarity these days when it seems that most lead singers have a limited vocal range compared to the singing they were known for in the past. They didn’t tune down their songs to benefit Zander either – as a lot of the older bands have done for their singer. They had the energy of a young band in their twenties – not bad for a group of guys in their sixties (Nielsen is 70.) What really amazed me though was this: Nielsen changed guitars after every song and sometimes during a song. Now, changing guitars in mid-song is nothing new, especially when one breaks a string or goes terribly out of tune but this wasn’t the case; Nielsen just likes switching guitars. Most well-known guitarists have a guitar collection tucked away in a vault somewhere but how many actually take their collection on the road with them and play them? The majority of the guitars he played during the first half of their set were copies of Gibson Explorers; mainly Hamers. Now, Nielsen is known for his famous checkerboard-patterned guitar finishes and this night was no exception but his guitars had all kinds of finishes: Metalflake orange, bright yellow, flames and just about any color you could think of. As the night wore on he also played several Gibson Les Pauls, a Hamer with the faces of the four Beatles on it (they had just played London’s Cavern Club a few weeks earlier) and other guitars including a Bo Diddley-esqe Gretch square-bodied electric and a couple of Gibson SG’s. A couple of Teles also got played as well as one or two-odd guitars.
For “Surrender” he pulled out his famous five-necked Hamer guitar, which is a sight to see. The guitar had to weigh forty pounds at least and he wielded it around like it was nothing. All in all they played seventeen songs, so doing the math; he played at least seventeen different guitars during the show and I’m sure there were more than that.
The songs were great, the band was tight and I got to see some great guitar eye-candy. The bottom line is I had a lot of fun. Going to see Cheap Trick was a gamble but in the end I came up aces. The next time they are in your area spin the wheel, take a chance – you’ll come up a winner!
What’s your favorite Rick Nielsen guitar?