Legendary rock band Cheap Trick blew the doors off The Paramount Theatre in Huntington Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 in an explosive, roughly two-hour-long, nonstop, high-octane-rock-and-roll-chaos sonic assault showcasing the band’s musical prowess and inciting resounding applause from all those in attendance.
Opening hell-raisers The Dirty Pearls lit the fuse, delivering a gritty, New York City-rock-and-roll French kiss set replete with dirty guitar hooks and catchy anthemic refrains in support of their latest firebomb Whether You Like It Or Not, closing out with a celebratory rendition of the Steppenwolf classic “Born to be Wild.”
For Cheap Trick, a band that’s toured continuously for the past 40 years and has sold more than 20 million records worldwide, The Paramount show offered fans a chance to get up-close, intimate and personal with singer Robin Zander, bassist Tom Petersson, drummer Daxx Nielsen and madman-axe murderer Rick Nielsen.
And it was a gig for the books.
Cheap Trick was looking to party from the second they took the stage—you could tell just from their outfits. Zander burst from the shadows in a multi-prismed getup literally reflecting dozens of tiny rainbows—sporting a blazer embedded with countless red and white sparkling crystals, a leather motorcycle hat also adorned with refracting jewels, black leather pants and sunglasses. Petersson donned a blood-red blazer and gray scarf. Daxx Nielsen could have been naked behind his kit, who knows—his bombastic, machine-gun slaughter gave a backbone to the sound seemingly made out of adamantium, shifting seamlessly through cataclysmic upheavals as the band roared through an incredible 19-song set. Rick Nielsen absolutely owned the stage, wearing a black velvet blazer, sunglasses and his signature cap and splitting open dimensions on seemingly every song.
The man simply rained hellfire down on all in attendance with guitar work this reporter can only hope to describe as absolute lightning fury magic. It was an unbelievable barrage of riffs, laser-guided solos and just utterly amazing fretboard finger aeronautics. His was an avalanche of sound, melody and noise, unrestraint, unbound, total annihilation-destruction lol. And the audience ate up every split second of it, their applause and shouts of adoration sometimes as loud as the two walls of Marshal and Orange amplifiers lining the back of the stage.
Okay, well maybe not exactly as ear-splitting. But still, pretty damn loud.
And it wasn’t merely Nielsen’s guitar playing that drew so many eyes and hollers—but also the insane arsenal of priceless, vintage guitars he disemboweled throughout the night. Nielsen changed weapons for nearly every song—showcasing a seemingly endless lineup that moved through custom Hamers, Gibson Les Pauls, Fenders and a drop-dead gorgeous Gretsch White Penguin. Tough to say which one was the hands-down most beautiful, though—some were two-necked; one had FIVE NECKS!!!—they all bit with saber-toothed ferocity and just sounded like liquid fkn butter, really.
Damn those things were hot.
Nielsen, besides Cheap Trick’s lead guitarist, backing vocalist and chief songwriter, tossed custom guitar picks out into the crowd, at least between songs, but sometimes several even during numbers. His mic stand was lined top-to-bottom with them, all different colors, and near the end of the gig he tossed out three whole handfuls of picks—and even flung out an entire vinyl record! (This reporter scored two such picks. Yes!)
The band kicked things off with a tight, loud and ferocious “Hello There” into “Standing on the Edge,” which was apparently the first time they performed the latter live since 1987, according to SetList.FM, and onto “Big Eyes,” which contained an absolutely crushing guitar solo on a strange-looking box-shaped guitar from Nielsen.
The crowd went wild, applauding, shouting and intently watching the Rockford, Ill. quartet as Nielsen switched out guitars again for a brief split second pause between the next tune.
“How can you watch the show through that lens!?” Zander laughed at a guy in front holding up his smart phone before launching into a rocket-fueled cover of The Move’s “California Man.”
Nielsen flicked another pick into the sea of people mobbing the front of the stage as Zander shouted a call-and-response of “Yeah! Yeah!” with the audience. Then, back into the mayhem. Nielsen absolutely mutilated a bright yellow Thunderbird-looking Hamer with flames shooting out of its sides and “Gonna Raise Hell” scrawled across its fret.
And oh, how they did.
Next up was “On Top of the World” and more just absolutely unimaginable guitar solos from Nielsen, with much of his apocalyptic wizardry splitting atoms ranging livid punk and flat-out rock, leveling waterfalls of cascading note-meteors in between fingerpicking, fingertapping and power sweeping solos. He prowled the stage, sometimes climbing atop a huge black-and-white-checkered box at the side of the stage, occasionally spitting as he stomped.
“Sick sick sick fkn solo,” reads my scribbles from that night.
Zander climbed atop the giant box, too, pointing at the nearby bar and telling onlookers near that side of the stage what sounded like “Somebody throw me a martini” while the rest of the band kept the noise simmering and “just fkn tool fkk off,” according to my notes.
Then he disappeared behind a wall of Orange amp cabinets to the right, emerging to bark something like “Don’t you wish we had some keyboards up here?”
They then collapsed into the slithery, snaky intro to “Heaven Tonight.”
“Right now we’d like to do something from our first album, which was released before 90 percent of you were born,” announced Nielsen afterward.
“It’s a beautiful album,” Zander replied as an aside, before launching into the shrieks of “I need some love! Gimme some love!” comprising “Ballad of TV Violence.”
Nielsen jumped and bobbed as he tooled away, hopping atop the monstrous checkered box again, this time kneeling on one leg as he ripped away on an absolutely beautiful sunburst-topped Les Paul.
It was just screaming mayhem and sonic fkn chaos. So amazing—the band and audience both smiling the whole time.
“Thank you for being here Monday night in Huntington, New York,” Nielsen told the crowd.
“Is it Tuesday night?” he asked in response to a few shouted corrections.
“You sure it’s not fkn Monday? Fkn Tuesday!?” he laughed. “I screwed up.”
Nielsen slung a checkered Hamer across his shoulder as the band next attacked “You’re All Talk,” featuring more impressive guitar work and Zander on shakers.
“One day Michael Jackson gave us a whole bunch of money,” declared Zander as an introduction to the next tune. “So we went out and recorded this song.”
Nielsen steps from off-stage toting a bright yellow Gibson Les Paul with the four Beatles’ faces! Insane.
They then tore through a decimating version of the Fab Four’s “Magical Mystery Tour” to more applause and shouts—Zander accepting that martini he ordered from a woman in the audience and temporarily trading it for more shakers that bled into a long instrumental section and Nielsen pointing the neck of the guitar up to the rafters, then back down into a colossal ending. What a take. Holy shtt.
The house lights came on for a few seconds then faded into blue.
Petersson stood there strumming under a lone spotlight, his bass drooling a crawling moan that transformed into what sounded like a helicopter that’s on fire and headed into the ocean.
Then back into moaning crawls.
His hair shoulder-length and tangled, he continued his bellows—which built to form an underbelly of something maniacal, something intense, something growing. Something sinister.
Then, the drums kicked in and brought along the rest of the group. Heavy bass and drums. Climbing, climbing climbing. Zander’s on an acoustic; Nielsen is on a wood-finish Hamer.
“Hey white boy, what you doin’ uptown?” speak-sings Petersson.
“I’m waiting for my man,” smiled Petersson, amid just waves of distorted guitar and freight-train rhythm that veered off-course slightly into a few verses of “Heroin”—Nielsen just eviscerating the air with tastes-like-a-Hass-avocado slide. INSANE.
To quote directly from my notebook that night: “In fkn sane In fkn sane.”
House lights. Blue lights.
Nielsen’s sunburst Les Paul pierced the night as the band kicked into a triumphant version of “Stop This Game,” Zander at one point raising the mic stand over his head and strutting in a near-Christ-like split-second pose at the front edge of the stage alongside Nielsen, who afterward switched to a sparkly yellow Hamer. Zander then whips out a 12-string white-with-orange-racing-stripes Tele as they dove into “Just Got Back.”
“For those of you who watch That ’70s Show,” he declared as they launched into a killer version of Big Star’s “In The Street,” the theme music for the popular TV show. “It’s Cheap Trick doing that song.”
Next up was Cheap Trick’s most popular tune, or at least the one that most people identify the band with: “I Want You To Want Me.”
It’s during this song that I noticed Nielsen even tosses out picks mid-solo, simply continuing with his shreds with his bare fingers till he grabs another from his stand. Crazy. The tune culminated in a crowd hand-clapping sing-a-long for two verses before a crash-landing ending. Sick.
The band went into another popular number, “Dream Police” afterward, with Nielsen stalking the stage while strangling a yellow and black Hamer and Zander, at one point lying on the floor draped in a shimmering bejeweled white overcoat, bending into the audience at the front of the stage and holding out the mic for fans to sing. Nielsen tossed out what looked like 20 picks during his solo.
“Good night you guys, love everybody and we’ll see you down the road,” he shouted as the band walked off but the house lights didn’t flash on.
After a few minutes of sustained jeering and applause from the audience, Nielsen emerged back out.
“Does that mean you wanna hear some more?” he asked to resounding shouts and “ Yeah!”s.
“Are you sure you wanna hear some more!?” he asked again, to the same response. “Well them I guess we should probably do a few more, maybe bring some friends up here, you never know.
“Maybe all of you should come up here, I don’t know,” he laughed, to more roars from the crowd.
“I need some help on this next song,” shouted Zander before a communal encore performance of “Never Had a Lot to Lose.”
“All you gotta do is yell ‘Wha Whoa Oh,’” he continued, with the audience following his lead and repeating the line throughout the number.
They brought a friend onstage for the next tune—the ear candy hit “Surrender.”
“Ladies and gentleman, Rob Bartlett,” Zander announced, to a trickle of applause.
He looked out into the audience, then back at the bulky comedian waving behind a microphone on the right side of the stage.
“Rob Bartlett,” he repeated, laughing, to a bit more applause.
Total pandemonium broke out, with pretty much the entire house on their feet, singing and hopping and laughing and smiling along. It’s here that Nielsen flung out a vinyl record far into the back of the room.
What a great song. And what a killer performance.
Barlett grabs the mic as the song crashes to a halt: “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he says, to even more applause from the fired-up crowd before walking off.
“That’s one talented dude,” said Zander.
Then more chaos, more mayhem, more rock. It was about 10: 30 p.m., an hour and a half into their set, and Cheap Trick had the entire ’Mount begging for more. These guys used to play sold-out arenas and entire stadiums, I thought to myself. Cheap Trick at Budokan, anybody!? What a gift, what a blessing, to witness this massacre here.
Out struts Nielsen toting his Hamer with “Gonna Raise Hell” across its fret again. He held that thing as if it were a machine gun. And then he proved that it pretty much was, he and his cohorts launching into an absolutely crushing version of the tune that guitar is named after, Nielsen bending the living shtt out of its whammy. Nuts.
He tossed out a few more picks, and then I saw her. It. Whatever pronoun that can adequately encompass the mind-bending, extraterrestrial, interplanetary wrecking device Nielsen paraded onto the stage for the final song, aptly titled “Goodnight.”
THE THING HAD FIVE NECKS!!! (!!!!!)
It was like a dragon. An alien. Something not of this realm.
And Nielsen slew it right there in front of all of us, up on the stage at this magical place we have out in Huntington, its stage some weird bizarre extraordinary altar of salvation. The ‘Mount. A lil wee tike ’bout neigh high strummed a Strat on the far right of the stage, too.
Afterward, they all embraced in front of the drum kit, their backs to the audience. Turning and walking out to center stage, they took a group bow.
Nielsen paused at the mic just before walking off and let loose a howl.
“Yeah!” he shrieked as the house lights came back on and a shell-shocked audience trolled the ground for his picks.