In Music

Cheap Trick returns tonight to the Northern Lights Theater. (PHOTO: Michael Pflughoeft)

In Music

The band's "Dream Police" tour will play a total of 12 dates in Milwaukee. (PHOTO: Michael Pflughoeft)

In Music

Guitarist Rick Nielsen unearthed the original orchestral charts especially for the current tour. (PHOTO: Michael Pflughoeft)

A Cheap Trick fan's "Dream"

It was July, 1980 -- a hot summer night, at a virtually sold out Alpine Valley.

Cheap Trick was at the apex of their popularity -- "Live At Budokan" had rocketed the band into international superstardom and four guys from Rockford, Illinois were in their glory -- in front of their hometown fans -- on their first "big shed" headlining tour behind their new hit album entitled "Dream Police."

The band put a lot into the Dream Police tour, including cutting a nifty, three minute introductory film for the title track with high production values (for 1979). After watching the mini-drama unfold from the 10th row, I immediately thought "That was really cool, I wish they'd expand upon that..."

It only took 31 years.

Last Friday night, the second performance of a 12-show run at Milwaukee's Northern Lights Theater, Cheap Trick flashed back to their platinum roots with a special "4-D" production showcasing the entire Dream Police album as well as a variety of other Cheap Trick favorites, old and new, with the support of an orchestra and backup singers. That classic clip from 1979 was, of course, part of the video vignette opening of the show.

The results? Mixed at best. The good was very good, while the rest looked very much like a work in progress. With another 10 Dream Police dates at the NLT to come over the next month, it's assured that a band with Cheap Trick's seasoning will work out the kinks and make this show one that every Cheap Trick fan must see.

Let's start with the obvious. It was great to hear the classic Dream Police album in its entirety. Guitarist Rick Nielsen said in a recent interview that he unearthed the original orchestral charts especially for this program and that "we want (this show) to swing, and we want it to be powerful."

Musically, it certainly was. The addition of the "Bombastic Symphonic Philharmonic" (featuring members of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra) gave many of the songs, especially the title track and "Way Of The World" a lush, cinematic quality. The horn section made the upbeat "I'll Be With You Tonight" feel like a big band swing tune straight out of the '40s.

Robin Zander continues his reign as one of the most emotive voices in rock. His expressive renditions of Cheap Trick ballads including "Voices" and "The Flame" juxtaposed with the gritty hard rock of "The House is Rockin' (With Domestic Problems) and "Gonna Raise Hell," demonstrated remarkable range and dexterity. The addition of the "Rhythmic Noise Mind Choir" really helped flesh out the overall vocal attack well beyond the typical CT performance.

A two-tiered, moveable video wall provided a dazzling visual overload of shape and color on songs like "I Know What I Want" and "Writing on The Wall."

But on other songs, especially, "Need Your Love" -- an array of bizarre, old B&W photos was distracting and almost overpowered the musical component. Thankfully, the muscular, four-guitar attack at the end rescued the song from the brink of disaster.

"Cheap Trick at the Movies," an orchestral interlude featuring a medley of nine CT songs along with clips from the movies they were featured in (from Daddy Day Care to Top Gun), following the completion of the Dream Police segment of the show was an interesting segue.

An attempt to give "High Priest of Rhythmic Noise" from the album "All Shook Up" a graphic novel treatment, with the Rhythmic Noise Mind Choir taking over vocals, seemed a bit forced; ultimately an unsatisfying effort.

Unfortunately, for the Cheap Trick faithful, the newly-remodeled Northern Lights Theater is not at all conducive to a rollicking rock show. The new seating design, especially on the lower level, is set to maximize seating capacity and the ability to serve beverages during the show – but doesn't really allow for people to get up and get into the show. In fact, there were times between songs that the place was dead silent. This was not as much a reflection on the band as it was on the cramped and unorthodox seating layout of the NLT.

It wasn't until the final two songs "I Want You to Want Me" and "Surrender" amid a blizzard of black & white confetti that anybody in the lower level actually got up and got grooving to the music.

All and all, it was a very good, albeit not great Cheap Trick show. Musically outstanding -- one of the best sounding Cheap Trick concerts ever. Visually, a mixed bag.

And while the three original Tricksters, Zander, Nielsen and Tom Petersson seemed to have a great time, it was clear to see that Nielsen's sons Daxx on drums (filling in for Bun E. Carlos) and Miles on guitar and vocals were having the time of their lives playing with their dad's legendary band.

Cheap Trick's Dream Police run continues at the Northern Lights Theater with shows this Friday and Saturday (Jan. 28 and 29) as well as February 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25 and 26. The band has said that every night will be a little different.

Cheap Trick set list: Jan. 24, 2011 (Northern Lights Theater)

  • Heaven Tonight (band & orchestra only)
  • Hello There (recording)
  • Dream Police
  • Way Of The World
  • The House is Rockin' (with Domestic Problems)
  • Gonna Raise Hell
  • I'll Be With You Tonight
  • Voices
  • Writing on The Wall
  • I Know What I Want
  • Need Your Love
  • Cheap Trick @ The Movies (Orchestral versions of 9 CT songs)
  • High Priest of Rhythmic Noise
  • The Flame
  • Tonight It's You
  • Times of Our Lives
  • Smile
  • I Want You To Want Me
  • Surrender

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