LYNN — The greatest American classic rock band? Cheap Trick has more than a few fervent supporters.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers from Rockford, Ill., made their second visit to Lynn Auditorium Saturday night, and they sold out the place. For 90 minutes, Cheap Trick roared through an entertaining 18-song set that featured their biggest hits, lesser-known fan faves and inspired cover tunes.
The band’s core — frontman Robin Zander, guitar wizard Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson — have been together for most of the past 45 years. Pretty impressive. Original drummer Bun E. Carlos left in 2010, replaced by Nielsen’s son, Daxx. Zander’s son, Robin T., has also joined the family business, playing guitar and adding vocals, mostly the high notes that dad can’t quite hit anymore. This is one super-tight outfit, fueled no doubt by relentless touring.
Ah, those cover tunes. Saturday night, Cheap Trick very well might have been America’s greatest cover band, performing a mid-set blast of others’ songs that kicked the concert to a whole ‘nother level. The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” was a spacy, psychedelicized high; Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” a centerpiece of the band’s “At Budokan” LP in 1978, was a furious rocker; Dobie Gray’s “The ‘In’ Crowd” was whip-smart, a sterling mix of Bryan Ferry-David Bowie heavyosity.
Best of all was an unexpected run-through of The Velvet Underground’s dope-sick anthem “I’m Waiting For the Man,” with vocals and a mind-blowing 12-string Gretsch bass solo by Petersson. Early in the show, the band ripped through the poppy “California Man,” by ’60s British hitmakers The Move, whose members played a role in forming Electric Light Orchestra. Cheap Trick cheekily followed that with its own wonderful “ELO Kiddies.”
Zander, 65, remains a formidable frontman, one of rock’s all-time best, though he shouts rather than sings the lyrics a bit too much for my taste. The words often get overshadowed by the blazing guitars and explosive drumming. He certainly looks the rock-god part though, covered from head to toe in black, with a dreamy police hat covering his long, blond hair. When he stripped down to a sleeveless T-shirt mid-show, many women, and men, oohed and aahed.
The band packed all of the hits into the show’s closing minutes. “I Want You to Want Me,” “Dream Police,” “Never Had a Lot to Lose” and, especially “Surrender,” with its “mommy’s all right, daddy’s all right, they just seem a little weird” chorus, had fans singing along. Their only number-one song, “The Flame,” was not played, nor was it missed. The laser light show was arena-worthy. Curiously, fans in the balconies stayed seated for the entire show.
Rick Nielsen, 70, is one of popular music’s premier guitarists. Cheap Trick rocks considerably harder in concert than on its records, thanks to Nielsen father and son (Daxx is a monster behind the drum kit). Rick played about 20 different guitars this night, many of them amusingly decorated and shaped like parallelograms or squares. The five-necked guitar he lugged around for the final number drew chuckles, as did his goofy, playful demeanor throughout the show.
Aaron Lee Tasjan, a much-buzzed-about gritty folk-rocker based in Nashville, opened with a bunch of rambunctious tunes that pleased the capacity crowd.