Review: Cheap Trick Blasts Through the Hits and More at the PAC

Cheap Trick
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
Dec. 3

The core players of veteran rock/pop band Cheap Trick — Rockford, Illinois’ finest rock ‘n’ roll export — have been banging around together for more than 40 years. As lead guitarist Rick Nielsen, lead singer/guitarist Robin Zander, and 12-string bassist Tom Petersson plowed effortlessly through a loud, enthusiastic hour and a half set at the Performing Arts Center last night, it was easy to see and hear their cheerful chemistry.

Hitting the stage with no opener ahead of them, the band kicked off with a heavy handful of classic hits and fan favorites, starting with their traditional starter “Hello There,” followed by the shouty, thumping “Big Eyes” (from the In Color album) and their riffy rendition of the Move’s “California Man” (from Heaven Tonight).

Nielsen’s and Petersson’s rock chops were still solid. Zander’s raw delivery and Nielsen’s goofy sense of humor was in full force. Yes, there was checkerboard all over the amps and across the stage. Sure, they were dolled up in festive, slightly dated rock-wear (Zander’s black leather “biker cop” ensemble was especially impressive). And, yes, they stuck to their familiar hits rather than introducing new tunes. But the classic rock magic was still there.

With longtime drummer Bun E. Carlos out of commission and off the road this year, Nielsen’s son Daxx signed on to keep time on a handsome, vintage Ludwig kit (his toms sounded a bit Tupperware-y out front, and his kick and snare were a bit low in the guitar-heavy mix, unfortunately). There was some concern among many fans about how the young Nielsen might handle some of Carlos’ big fills and rolls, as well his more subtle techniques (like “riding” the snare with eighth notes with his left hand), but he pulled it off tastefully and respectfully. His drumming with Cheap Trick reminded me Zak Starkey’s recent performances with the Who: appropriately loose and tight in the best way.

It’s a shame that the PAC was only a third full on Tuesday evening. The place seemed almost empty 40 minutes before the unusually early start time of 7:30 p.m. showtime. But some hardcore, longtime fans donning old tour shirts and skinny checkerboard neckties turned up, and most of those who attended seemed to go nuts for the band’s high-energy pop-rock production.

The show gained momentum as the band played more aggressively through renditions of “She’s Tight” (a rarely played gem from the 1982 album One on One), an At Budokan-esque “Ain’t That a Shame” (their famous over-the-top Fats Domino cover), and an anthemic version of Big Star’s “In the Street” (the theme song to That ’70s Show).

Petersson stepped up the mic to sing lead on the riffy “Know What I Want.” The audiences nearly jumped out of their seats when they went into their biggest hit, “I Want You to Want Me.” Nielsen threw his signature guitar picks at the front rows by the handfuls.

Cheap Trick closed with “Sick Man of Europe” (one of their newer numbers, from the 2009 disc The Latest) and “Dream Police,” the amusingly garish title track from their 1979 album. Their three-song encore featured “Never Had a Lot to Lose” (with the high-pitched “Uh, Uh-oh!” call-and-response), a flashy and joyful version of “Surrender,” and one of their traditional closers, “Auf Wiedersehen,” replete with Nielsen wearing his trademark five-neck guitar and Zander screaming, “Bye-bye, so long, farewell, sayonara, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, hari kari, kamikaze, suicide!” Everyone on my row had their fists raised.

All photos by Jessica Mickey.

Click here for more concert shots by the PAC’s Melanie Crowley.



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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.

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