Don’t expect to see Cheap Trick pull out 1988’s No. 1 hit “The Flame” at the group’s show at the Barrymore tonight or to play anything resembling an oldies show. The fact is, live Cheap Trick still kicks out its own brand of guitar-heavy power pop with the wild abandon and volume of bands half their age.
When the members themselves were half the age they are now, they created music somewhere between the perfect pop of the Beatles, the hard rock of the Who and the absurdity of the Move, as seen on such classic albums as 1977’s self-titled album and the same year’s In Color, along with 1978’s Heaven Tonight.
Cheap Trick’s first album, a classic of the power-pop genre (a term now unfortunately hijacked by EMO bands who probably have never heard a big-star record in their lives), features songs with topics ranging from suicide to murderers, pedophiles and male gigolos, all rendered with a wicked sense of humor and an amazing grasp on pop melodies.
Needless to say, it took the group a couple of years to catch on in America — its music was just a little too undefinable for the masses of 1977. It wasn’t until “Surrender” and a live version of “I Want You to Want Me” broke in 1978 and 1979, respectively, that Cheap Trick began to experience the stardom that had so long eluded the band in the United States.
For most of the ’80s, the band was relatively silent, releasing albums that, for the most part, flew under commercial radar. Upset at Cheap Trick’s declining sales, Epic forced the band to wade through mountains of songwriter demos in search of a sure-fire hit.
The fruit of this forced search for a hit was 1988’s number-one hit “The Flame,” an excursive in ’80s excess power ballads if there ever was one.
Although very unrepresentative of Cheap Trick’s sound and overproduced to a fault, “The Flame” would not only be its last hit, but its only No. 1.
Unfortunately, the group’s post-Epic years have been plagued by uninterested record labels, which often dropped the band after only one album. This luck picked up in the last years of the century, while many rock stars of the alternative-rock movement often cited Cheap Trick as a major influence on their careers — among them Billy Corgan, as well as the Motorz.
Renewed interest in the band led to the members signing to Red Ant Entertainment, which released 1996’s Cheap Trick, the group’s second self-titled album. It was meant to signify the band’s re-birth, as the record was the beginning of the second half of Cheap Trick’s career.
The album, produced by Steve Albini, featured a return to the heavy-guitar-based rock of the group’s first three albums, as no longer would the band cater to pressure to stroke the radio that had abandoned it; instead, it just did what it does best: rock like hell.
Cheap Trick also has a new album due out at the end of this month, its first in six years, which is reportedly one of the strongest of its career.
So come on down to the show — you won’t regret it. That is, unless you forget to bring ear plugs or stand in front of the speakers, because Cheap Trick is notoriously loud.
Cheap Trick plays tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Barrymore Theatre (2090 Atwood Ave.) with opener The Anniversary. Tickets are $26 and are available at all Barrymore ticket outlets. Call 241-2345 for more information.