Originally published in The Jersey Journal:
Pulling Out All the Trick(s): Legendary Rockers to Shake it Up at Liberty Park with ‘Power Pop‘
June 23, 2006
by David Chiu
When asked what holds his band Cheap Trick together for over 30 years, guitarist Rick Nielsen joked, “Duct tape and gum.”
“We still like to play,” he said in a recent phone interview. “The four of us together aren’t bad.”
That might be an understatement given the Rockford, Illinois band’s stature as a successful veteran and influential rock act. The group continues to be a hard working and reliable live act, and will bring its high-energy performance to LibertyJAM at Liberty State Park this Sunday.
Cheap Trick-whose members are Nielsen, singer Robin Zander, bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Bun E. Carlos-wrote the book on power pop. Its sound is characterized by a combination of aggression and a heavy dose of Beatles-inspired melodies. Cheap Trick’s most popular songs such as “I Want You to Want Me,” “Surrender,” and “Dream Police” continue to get radio airplay.
“They’re still good pop songs today,” said Nielsen, “and the lyrics aren’t talking about something that happened way back when. It’s talking about what’s going on right now.”
Earlier this month, Cheap Trick released the aptly-titled “Rockford,” arguably its best album in years. Recalling the classic power pop sound of the earlier albums from the late ’70s, “Rockford” delivers back-to-basics
hard-charging rockers such as “Welcome to the World,” “Come On Come On Come On” and “This Time You Got It.”
“We’re back to regular, not high octane,” said Nielsen, making a gasoline analogy. “The regular runs better and is better for us and the environment.”
In some ways, “Rockford” brings Cheap Trick’s career to full circle-it will be 30 years ago in August that Cheap Trick signed its first deal record deal. While Cheap Trick’s first two albums didn’t burn up the U.S. charts, they went gold in Japan. So when the band toured Japan in April 1978 as headliners, the fans went wild.
“It was great,” the guitarist recalled. “Looking back on it, it was the first big shows on our own. It was for people that we didn’t know.”
The resulting album from the Japan shows, “Live at Budokan,” yielded Cheap Trick’s first U.S. Top Ten single, “I Want You to Want Me,” now a classic.
“It is what it is,” explained Nielsen about the song’s popularity. “It’s simple, it’s direct to the point, a good melody, and you can dance to it.”
The group soldiered on through the 1980s and had a Number One song, “The Flame,” but was plagued by record company problems in the ’90s. Cheap Trick regained momentum when the four members began to write and produce their songs together while starting their own record company.
Over time, Cheap Trick has been acknowledged as an influence to bands such as Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins.
“For bands like that, especially successful bands that mention us, it’s like ‘Wow, they mean it!’” said Nielsen.
As part of his eccentric on-stage persona, the baseball cap-wearing Nielsen plays several eye-catching custom-made guitars and tosses out guitar picks to the crowd. It is the interaction with the fans in the audience that drives the band.
“They look at me and say, ‘I can do that,’” Nielsen said. “I don’t stand with my back to the audience. I’m a fan too. And I know that 99 percent of them wish they were on stage, too.”