Music News

Cheap Trick Celebrates At Budokan at Wild Horse Pass

If the food is bad backstage when Cheap Trick plays Wild Horse Pass on May 31, this reporter isn't to blame.

In any case, after criss-crossing the globe for 40 years and playing enough exotic locations that anything from sushi to fried cassava to bull testicles could appear on the spread, Rick Nielsen and the rest of Cheap Trick just isn't concerned about it.

"We've been around the world, so nothing's that unusual. The fact that we had any good food backstage was unusual," guitarist Nielsen says by phone from Miami. "But the food better be good [here] or I'm going to be pissed at you."

Nielsen's joking, of course. (I hope.) He says his singular focus has always been on playing good rock 'n' roll music to as many people as possible, even from the band's earliest days.

"I always thought internationally," he says. "Even if we were playing a little place outside of Rockford [Illinois, where the band formed] or in Iowa or wherever, I always thought I could play in England or L.A. [Like] this was just a pitstop I had to make to be able to play all those places."

That attitude paid off when Nielsen and crew did go international, garnering plenty of acclaim from their peers, fans, and the occasional critic. Songs like "Dream Police," "Surrender," "The Flame," and "I Want You to Want Me" helped the band sell out arenas and sell millions of records. Of course, there were lean moments, too, when Cheap Trick's sound was funneled into experimental forays in faux-metal, electronica, and pure pop, even though it was the band's garage-rock core that landed them on the charts in the first place. Those diversions were often dictated by the outside suggestion of others.

"Usually, the stuff people didn't like was the stuff where managers, producers, and record company people got involved," he says. "The less we had of that going on, the more we were true to ourselves. That's why we keep making records, one by one. A record may have been universally panned, but we don't work with the producer anymore, we don't have that manager anymore, we're not on that label anymore — but we're still working . . . We haven't progressed very far, but there you go.

"We always try to have good songs," he continues. "It was our sixth album and the management wanted to bring in outside writers. It was like, 'What, didn't you listen to our first five albums?' I didn't think there was that much wrong with those albums.

"But it was like, 'What do we know? We should listen to people who are successful.' I blame other people, but it's probably our fault for letting them direct us."

Currently, the band is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the shows that yielded 1979's Cheap Trick at Budokan, a quintessential live album and the release that saw Cheap Trick reach a pinnacle of success. It helped that the band was already big in Japan, adding to the transcendent energy of the concert moment. A special box set of the show has been released, and Robin Zander's speaking parts have not been "fixed." They weren't ever broken, though listeners often assumed something was wrong with the tapes as Zander's speech was slow and choppy. Nielsen corrects the myth.

"Some of the speaking parts sound weird, but we were told by the show promoter to speak slower so the Japanese fans could understand us," he explains. "Otherwise, that record still sounds good to this day."

And in concert?

"The songs are good and we like them," he says, despite decades of near-constant touring. "It's not like, 'Oh, man, we have to go play that song again?'"

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Glenn BurnSilver
Contact: Glenn BurnSilver