We're barely into the second month of 2011 and I've already seen a show that will be tough to beat as best show of the year for me: Cheap Trick at the Northern Lights Theater at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. Cheap Trick already did the 'perform an album in its' entirety' concept way back in 1998 when they did their first four albums over four nights at Metro, chronicled on their "Music For Hangovers" live CD and a featured performance by XRT's own Lin Brehmer on "On The Radio" found on the ONXRT, Live From the Archives Volume 4.
So, when you've already tackled that idea, you have to up the ante; nothing short of a full orchestra and choir will do. Enter The Bombastic Symphonic Philharmonic with The Rhythmic Noise Mind Choir. For the next three weekends, you can make a rock and roll roadtrip across the Illinois/Wisconsin border to Milwaukee to see the spectacle yourself.
My love of Cheap Trick is well-documented around the radio station and to XRT listeners, so for me this was a 'must-see' show. Perhaps you saw the band perform the song 'Dream Police' on Conan a few weeks back, that was just a small taste of this fantastic show. In a video clip that precedes the performance, bassist Tom Petersson explains that given the critical and commercial success of their previous four albums (a few of which went platinum) the label let them cut loose with 'Dream Police', which they did with some fantastic string arrangements and great pop songcraft which yielded them a few Top 40 singles and earned them another platinum award. The raw album material lends itself quite well to this--to borrow a phrase--bombastic stage show.
In this show, three of the original members of the band--Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson--are augmented by a keyboard player and two of Rick Nielsen's uber-talented sons: Daxx on drums and Miles on guitar and backing vox on the main stage. Miles also also tackled the lead vocal on Cheap Trick staple "Heaven Tonight" in one of two songs played before the "Dream Police" set. The 18-piece orchestra and three choir members are on a second level above the stage. The title track kicks off the record and this show in fine fashion but what was equally impressive was how the less-familiar tracks from the album that rarely make their way onto regular Cheap Trick setlists shone. All the familiar stage antics and fun you expect from a Cheap Trick show are in abundance (who wants a guitar pick?) it's just improved by the scope of this production; really, how cool is it to have an orchestra at your disposal? Following the performance of the album, the band tore through a very broad swath of their catalog, featuring crowd favorites like "I Want You Want Me" and "Surrender" and some underrated depth tracks like two gems from 1980's 'All Shook Up' album: "Baby Loves To Rock" and "High Priest of Rhythmic Noise". Of course, the second set changes from night to night, so your mileage may vary, all the more reason to see which gems you might catch on a given night.
Three weekends of this show remain, February 11-12, 18-19 and 25-26 at the Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee, a ninety-minute drive from most of the Chicago area. One of the best parts of this show being staged in a first-class casino is that after the show's over, you can hit the tables or slots, grab some drinks and superb cuisine, all on-site. The staff at Potawatomi Casino were exceedingly helpful and friendly, which made the fact that I lost a few $$ at roulette easier to take. Go see this show!