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Cheap Trick - Live in Traverse City

  Cheap Trick live
Following out this week's concert extravaganza, the third gig in 7 days was Cheap Trick. I've seen Cheap Trick before and despite the legal drama with original drummer Bun E. Carlos, they are still a great live band. Following Cheap Trick's inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the release of a great new album "Bang Zoom Crazy Hello" Cheap Trick is currently touring with Joan Jett and Heart. But if that wasn't enough to keep them busy, they are also doing one-off gigs on their own, which is what brought them to Traverse City for the Cherry Festival.

With a career that spans 5 decades, 17 studio albums and numerous hit singles, the band has a pretty big catalog to draw from. They also tend to mix things up a bit in different shows, so it's not always the same songs every night, which is nice.  They started off strong with their usual show opener "Hello There," followed by "Just Got Back," "California Man," "On Top Of The World," "Baby Loves to Rock," and "Taxman, Mr Thief," an obvious Beatles reference from their first album and "Never Had a Lot to Lose" and "The House is a Rocking" from Dream Police. The band played with a ton of energy. Robin Zander's vocals are in fine form and he still looks good in skinny leather pants and a cape. Rick Nielsen is all over the stage, swapping out a new guitar for every song, flinging picks into the audience and goofing around as always. The rhythm section is extremely solid with Tom Petersson on bass and Dax, Rick's son, on drums, pounding like hurricane. 

Cheap Trick 5 neck hamerThen they played a couple of songs from their new album "Bang Zoom Crazy Hello:" "The In Crowd," and "No Direction Home." Personally, I think it's a great album, possibly the best since the '70s era and I wish they'd played a few more cuts. Next up was "The Ballad of TV Violence" followed by what was a great solo by Tom Petersson on his unique 12-string Gretsch bass (!) that went into a cover of The Velvet Underground's "Waiting for My Man" with Petersson on vocals. This was followed by the ballad "The Flame" and then the big hits: "I Want You To Want Me," "Dream Police" and an encore of "Surrender." That song still gives me goose bumps.

Rick Nielsen then brought out his crazy 50 pound 5 neck Hamer guitar for a short "Goodnight." The whole set was about 90 minutes leaving everyone thirsty for just a few more songs.

Here are a couple of videos I shot. I'll also try to post some high-def photos later on.

 The opening band was the born-and-bred in Traverse City Kenny Olson. It was a a bit too generic-hard-rock-guitar for my taste, but they did manage to get the audience on their feet and Kenny is a great blues guitar player.


Zappa Plays Zappa (sort of)

Zappa plays zappa

Dweezil Zappa, eldest son of musical iconoclast Frank Zappa, has been keeping his father's work alive by touring as "Zappa Plays Zappa." Or at least, he has been until a family fallout has made it impossible for him to use that name. Dweezil has embarked on a fairly public skirmish with younger siblings Diva and Ahmet who control 60% of the Zappa Family Trust.  Dweezil and his older sister Moon, each own 20%. Presumably matriarch Gail Zappa knew exactly what kind of situation she was creating when she wrote her will dividing things up this way and leaving youngest son Ahmet in charge. While every family is dysfunctional in their own way, lets just say the Zappa family seems to have some special dynamics.

Mostly I wouldn't care less about some children-of-stars squabble except at the point where it starts to impact the actual shows that are being performed.  There's no likeness of Frank Zappa anywhere on stage or in any of the merchandise or promotional materials. In fact the tour has been renamed the "Dweezil Zappa plays whatever the f@%k he wants." Except, that's not exactly true either. But I'll come back to that point momentarily. 

The show began on a strong note with several songs from the first "Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention" album "Freak Out!" which was released 50 years ago this year. Songs ranged from the phrenetic "Help, I'm A Rock!" to the soulful "Doreen" to more musically adventurous songs like "The Illinois Enema Bandit" and "Eat That Question."  Indeed, it was the vast instrumental breaks with Dweezil's soaring guitar parts that got the fans up on their feet cheering. Of course, there were also some songs of questionable taste "Shove It Right In" and the jaunty "Catholic Girls" but taste is in the ear of the beholder. 

A lot of Zappa songs are laden with key and tempo changes that go way beyond rock and lean more heavily towards avant-garde jazz and that was certainly true with songs like "Five Five Five."

Presumably to show that Dweezil Zappa's tour was not just capitalizing on the music or fame of his father, the second part of the show included a medley of '80s songs.  Sure that's kind of cool. And these songs were played with great musicianship despite the fast chord, tempo and key changes. After going through snippets of a dozen songs in under 4 minutes ("Tom Sawyer", "Spirit of Radio", " Another One Bites The Dust", "Under Pressure", "Billie Jean", "Like a Virgin", "Jack & Diane", " I want Candy", "Walking on Sunshine", "Stray Cat Strut", the novelty wore off.

Yet the '80s snippets continued on with short bursts from: "Lady", "I Just Called To Say I Love You", "9 to 5", "Get Physical", "Xanadu", "Don't You Want Me Baby..."

And on... "I Don't Want to Hurt You", "Mr Roboto", "Blinded By Science", "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"...

And on... "I Melt With You", "Shout", "Our House", "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"...

And on... "C'mon Eileen", "Money For Nothing", "I Want A New Drug"...

And on... "Hey Micky", "Footloose", "Chariots of Fire"...

And on... "C'mon Feel The Noise", "Higher Love"...

And on... "Relax", "Born to Run"...

I counted over 75 songs. All brilliantly played. But other than the musical showmanship of being able to play these short signature licks without ever losing the beat, it became mind-numbing tedium.

So where was I?

Oh yes, the audience was there to hear the music of Frank Zappa. Not an '80s K-Tel commercial.  

After a brief pause, the band came back and played "You Are What You Is" and "Keep it Greasy". 

Again, I have to commend the band for an incredible performance of extremely complex music. They are superb musicians and Dweezil is an exceptionally talented guitarist and band leader.  It was an excellent show even for casual fans.

And I appreciate that Dweezil is in the difficult position of being unable to use his own family name without a license from the Zappa Family Trust (of which he is a beneficiary.)  While everyone in the family is saying they want to preserve Frank Zappa's legacy, Dweezil is out there keeping it alive while the Zappa Family Trust are singing a different tune.   


Billy Idol Live in Traverse City

Billy Idol 1

Eighties rocker Billy Idol stepped on the main stage at the Traverse City Cherry Festival Sunday evening for what was mostly a great concert.  The Cherry Festival, like any typical summer state fair, attracts it's share of oldies bands, but Billy Idol kicked things off with a 100db rendition of "Shock to the System" followed by a newer song "Can't Break Me Down" from the vastly underrated "Kings and Queens of the Underground."  They covered all the usual hits: "Eyes Without a Face," "Daytime Drama," as well as an old Gen-X song "King Rocker." Despite years of decadance on the road, at 60, Idol still looks the part of the buffed-out punk rocker running around on stage with an excess of energy. 

There were some excellent over-the-top guitar solos from super shredder Steve Stevens that went from Flamenco to Yes' "Roundabout" along with some tasty Led Zeppelin licks from "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "Stairway to Heaven."

Billy Idol 2The concert took a bit of a wrong turn when they embarked on Idol's biggest hit "Rebel Yell." Idol was singing very off-key and eventually stopped the song mid-verse and started over again. The second version still wasn't perfect and Idol left a lot of the singing to the crowd.

This is a song they've played in every single gig for the last two years, so I can't help but wonder what was going wrong with the sound on stage to cause such a screw up.  At the end, the band dashed off stage for a few minutes, presumably figuring out how to get things back on track.

Stevens and Idol came back for a slightly shaky acoustic version of "White Wedding" before the band came on for the full-on rock version. This was followed by a drum solo and a lengthy version of the classic "Mony, Mony."

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Coming in at about 90 minutes, it seemed to me they cut the show a bit short, with only one song from the new album. Maybe that was because of the shaky vocals. Or maybe they just wanted to get off stage and get some elephant ears from the food stands. 

Here's a couple of videos from the show including some Steve Stevens guitar pyrotechnics...

 I'll try to post some more videos from the show later on.

Civil twilightOpening act Civil Twilight from South Africa did an admirable job trying to entertain a crowd of aging boomers doing their best not to go blind from staring into the setting sun. The band played as a trio, with brothers McKellar on bass and guitar and fellow countryman Richard Wouters on drums.

The band  delivered a mix of song ranging in style from U2 to Peter Gabriel with a bit of Paul Simon "Graceland" polyrhythmic vibe. Highlights of their set included a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" and their final song, a lively upbeat number called "When Am I Going to See You Again?"  They are definitely be worth catching on their own US tour later this summer.