Within months of the release of Cheap Trick’s initial eponymous album, the then Illinois-based band made its Spokane debut. The start of Cheap Trick’s long live history with Spokane commenced in August 1977 when the fledgling power-pop band opened for KISS at the Spokane Coliseum.
The group’s brief and strong seven-song set, with the catchy “Tax Man, Mr. Thief” and visceral “Hello There,” hinted at what would impact rock fans. Within two years, Cheap Trick became superstars courtesy of its classic concert documentary “Cheap Trick at Budokan.”
The Rock & Roll Hall of Famers have been a Spokane staple over the years. Hits such as “I Want You to Want Me,” “Surrender,” “The Flame” and “Clock Strikes Ten,” as well as familiar favorites including “High Roller” and “Auf Wiedersehen,” have been part of Cheap Trick setlists at most shows.
It would be easy for Cheap Trick to ride the nostalgia wave, but the band – three quarters of its original lineup, vocalist-guitarist Robin Zander, guitarist-songwriter Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson, is intact – continues to write and record new material.
“We’re compelled to make new music,” Zander told me during a 2016 interview. “We still love what we do, and we’re inspired.” That’s so even though casual fans stopped buying Cheap Trick albums after the 1980s ended.
The band’s second eponymous album, released in 1997, is a stunner. 2006’s “Rockford,” which features the infectious “Welcome to the World,” is one of their finest projects. However, few fans checked out those albums. Will the quartet’s latest, “In Another World,” which drops Friday, suffer the same fate?
The leadoff track from the band’s 20th album, “Here Comes the Summer” is buoyed by big hooks and familiar harmonies. The playful “Quit Waking Me” and the thoughtful “So It Goes” are keepers and hopefully part of future setlists.
Longtime producer Julian Raymond is once again behind the board for Cheap Trick. “Julian has been a friend of ours since the early ‘80s, and we have such a connection with him,” Zander said.
“In Another World” deserves a spin. The Beatlesque melodies, provocative lyrics and taut musicianship are on display once again after all this time. The core of the band has been together for more than 40 years. Zander and Nielsen have been at the center of the group throughout the run. Petersson, who took a hiatus during 1981-87, has been part of the band for most of its long history.
Cheap Trick has survived success, some lackluster albums (1986’s odious “The Doctor,” 1990’s horrible “Busted” and 1994’s lousy “Woke Up With a Monster” are best forgotten) and even an attempt at a power ballad written out of house.
The band reluctantly recorded “The Flame,” a somber love song penned by a pair of British songsmiths in 1988. Thanks to Zander’s emotive vocal and Nielsen’s subtle guitar work, the tune became the band’s only song to top the Billboard pop charts. Cheap Trick has experienced so much and is well on its way to reaching the half-century mark.
How have Zander, Nielsen and Petersson kept it together for so many years? “We keep some distance between ourselves when we’re not working,” Zander said. “I think that’s a really good thing. … We get along great, but we don’t socialize with each other. A lot of young bands don’t realize that it’s best to keep that distance. Once you’re in everyone’s business, things start happening.”
Cheap Trick will once again be in each other’s business at the end of the month with three weeks of dates in Australia, then summer dates starting in July. There are no dates in the Pacific Northwest yet, but Cheap Trick usually finds its way to Spokane.
I’ll be curious to experience Zander’s vocals as he approaches his 70th birthday. Just prior to the pandemic, he was in fine form with a supple, potent set of pipes. Zander is a creative vocalist who comes at the band’s audience in many ways.
“I look at singing like acting,” Zander said. “Each song is different like each movie is different. If you approach it that way, you get diversity. Listen to the Beatles. They did the same thing. Each song, each vocal was different with the Beatles.
“It’s always been more fun for me to approach it that way. Fun is a big reason to do this. … But there’s nothing like getting together with the guys in this band to tour or write and record. We all still have the passion to continue, or we wouldn’t still be going out as Cheap Trick.”
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