After a set from perennial big name warmer upperers Dallas Crane – are there really no more suitable support bands in Sydney for a band like Cheap Trick? The packed-to the-rafters downstairs bar heads to its seats or floorspace and readies itself for the return of their long standing heroes…
I say long standing because it’s rare these days for Sentinel Daily to be one of the younger attendees at a gig, but the pre-match whiffs of conversation in the bar were all about past interactions with Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen and company not ten, not twenty, but thirty years ago and more at locations as salubrious as the Queanbeyan Leagues Club and Revesby Workers Club – these men have been titans of rock for as long as anyone cares to remember.
And, befitting that veteran status, they take a little time to warm up. Save for an energised California Man, which tonight carries a more-than-welcome whiff of the mighty Mott the Hoople about it, the first half of the set feels a little sluggish; Big Eyes plods when it should steamroll, and You Got it Going On sounds messy and a little perfunctory. Add to this the relaxed stage manner of the main protagonists – both vocalist Zander and bassist Tom Petersson amble about – Petersen in a ludicrous Mountie Hat, Zander in a loose fitting linen suit and broad-brimmed hat ensemble that makes him look like an amiable old buffer enjoying an over sixties cruise in the Caribbean – and you’ve got a general ambience that croaks lethargy rather than screams legends in the area.
But something clicks around the hour mark, and the band then remind you why you’re here, and why they are still an American hard rock institution. Strangely enough the charge is led by Petersson, who takes lead vocal on a sludgy reading of the Velvet Underground‘s Waiting for the Man, which seems to energise the band. Zander holds centre stage for an inspiring take on The Flame, Nielsen recreating his recorded solo with feeling and skill, and on the homeward run the band peel off the ones you came to hear – I Want You to Want Me, Dream Police and Surrender, with a fire in the belly and a smile on the lips singly missing earlier on in proceedings.
You can’t knock Cheap Trick – Robin Zander, in particular, retains the chops that made him a rock God prototype all those years ago, with nary a crack in the voice to be heard at any point in the evening – and when they fire on all cylinders – briefly tonight, but fire they did – they still present a compelling vision of classic rock splendour.