July 16, 2010

Thoughts on Cheap Trick and Squeeze

A few thoughts about the Cheap Trick/Squeeze concert I went to Tuesday night at Radio City Music Hall ($50 ticket off Craigslist, went alone, treated myself for my birthday):

— Radio City Musical Hall is a sick venue. That place is just awe-inspiring, from every angle: The architecture, the decoration, the stage. For a time, I said that my ultimate goal in life was for the Big Quiz Thing to play Radio City, but then I realized it has fixed row seating. I'll have to settle for Carnegie Hall.

-- I'd seen Squeeze a couple times before, but never Cheap Trick, so I was more interested in the madmen from Freeport, IL, legendary for their live act. (How many bands can you name whose most beloved release was a live album?) I assumed—I don't know, maybe because New York magazine and a couple other places suggested it—that the Trick was headlining, so I arrived at 8:15 for an 8pm show, figuring at worst I'd miss a couple Squeeze tunes. Nope: Took my seat just as Robin Zander was finishing the a cappella climax to "I Want You to Want Me," my karaoke standby.

Anyway, they were fucking great. Cheap Trick is really a unique band: They struck this weird balance between half a dozen forces going on in rock in the late '70s/early '80s: glam rock, emerging metal-pop, new wave, arena rock. Right now I'm listening to the Cheap Trick channel on Pandora, and it's the best thing I've heard from this program; plug in most bands, and it gives you a pretty narrow range of sound-alike acts, but apparently Cheap Trick is at the sonic center of the classic-rock universe: I can do without Aerosmith, and it's a little too heavy on Queen, but otherwise there's the Beatles, Van Halen when they were good, the Who, the Cars, CCR, the Romantics, Tom Petty, Journey…hell, Tommy Tutone. It's like a really good classic-rock station, the kind that made me a rock fan to begin with.

More of my thoughts about the concert in this review; I didn't write any of the bits about Squeeze, I was just helping out a colleague who arrived seriously late.

— The crowd was very working-class; lots of rough-looking old rock & roll fans wearing Mets caps and holding plastic cups of beer. I say this with no intended condescension. But it was a little surprising, and heartening. Squeeze is an unabashedly London working-class band (think "Up the Junction"), so it's nice to see the sentiment communicated across the Atlantic.

-- Speaking of which, while Cheap Trick T-shirts were not in short supply, this crowd was definitely there for the headliners, which surprised me but shouldn't have. Squeeze was (is) an excellent band—Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford were the new-wave Lennon and McCartney—and while they never met tremendous mainstream success in the U.S., they for some reason have maintained a huge amount of goodwill in the NYC area. Growing up in New Jersey, under the aegis of New York rock radio, I was under the impression that Squeeze was one of the biggest bands in the world; they were in heavy rotation on WNEW, and it seemed like owning a copy of Singles 45's and Under was a prerequisite for getting a driver's license. In 1989, I saw them play a packed Madison Square Garden.

The next year, I moved to Canada, and was surprised to discover that Squeeze did not stride the earth like a colossus; most of my classmates didn't know the band, they were a cult act at best. Same thing when I got to college in the Midwest; sure, everyone knew "Tempted" (the Reality Bites soundtrack had reached campus saturation levels), but otherwise the band was one many in the sub–Elvis Costello hipster-'80s-rock loam.

But last Tuesday's show proved that New York hasn't forgotten. It was fun to watch the crowds varying reactions—hanging on every word when Difford, Tilbrook and their current crop of hired hands (including an irritatingly jumpy keyboard player) played a song from the Singles collection (even if there's no way most of those people knew what Difford is talking about in the über-British "Cool for Cats"), and subdued when the band indulged in an excellent obscurity like "It's So Dirty" or a latter-day single like "Loving You Tonight."

—By the way, shame on them—they played every song from Singles 45's and Under, with the exception of their absolute best song, "Another Nail for My Heart." Instead, watch it here:

This oversight renewed a promise I made to myself once upon a time: If I ever become filthy rich, I will pay to coax all my favorite bands to perform just for me, with a set list of my choosing. I just hope my favorite bands are still alive by then.