Live Reviews

Cheap Trick shake up Columbia

Cheap Trick at Stephens Assembly Hall in Columbia, MO, March 14, 1981

Being exposed to great music is what the high school years are all about. On this night, I won the lottery when Cheap Trick became my new favorite band. The Stephens Assembly Hall (at Stephens College) is not much more than an oversized lecture room, so it was loud. I recall sitting near the back of the floor section and becoming happily deafened. Experiencing this epic evening with me was my best bud Gregg and our dates – who seemed to manage the onslaught of noise and lack of small talk quite well. Describing that night, Gregg would later reminisce, “Honestly, just remember the first song the most. The fog started and we waited for the song. ‘Stop This Game.’ Killer. I was hooked.” For me, this was my second big concert and first time seeing Cheap Trick (the first biggie was REO Speedwagon a year earlier at Mizzou’s Hearne’s Center about five minutes away). The Tricksters were touring in support of their fifth studio album, All Shook Up. After working with producer Tom Werman on the first four studio albums, George Martin (The Beatles) took the helm on this one.

The original lineup was intact and consisted of the superhuman vocals of Robin Zander, ace guitarist and chief songwriter Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson on bass, and Bun E. Carlos on the drums. Shortly after All Shook Up’s release, Petersson left the band and was replaced with Pete Comita. Jon Brant soon replaced Comita, recording and touring with the band for the next six years. With Gregg a few years later, we ran into Zander post-concert outside a bar and had a nice chat. He was a most affable fellow, inquiring as to our thoughts on the show. As Brant sat in the van feet away, Zander let us in on a secret: they were bringing back original bassist Petersson and reforming the classic Cheap Trick lineup. We felt as if we were let in on news of a changing of the guard, making us footnotes in a rock ‘n’ roll history trivia moment.

From what I can see on that stub, tickets were just six bucks (if not $6.50). I doubt if the merch was much more. My very first concert shirt still survives, although apparently constructed with a mysterious shrinking material. Another flashback transpired two years later in Kansas City where we were set to see the band again at Memorial Hall, touring in support of the new release Next Position Please. Earlier that afternoon, the band members were to sign autographs at a now-defunct Peaches Records & Tapes. Like good soldiers, Gregg and I showed up – clad in our ’81 Cheap Trick shirts – on which Rick Nielsen commented, “Look…it’s the Doublemint twins!” We laughed nervously but still needed those autographs. “If I see you in the crowd tonight, this will be for you,” as he presented his two favorite middle fingers. It was a true moment of bonding for the three of us.

While memories remain fuzzy, standout songs included the epic new single “Stop This Game,” along with “Surrender,” “Dream Police,” and a cover of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.” Evidence of an accurate setlist is scarce, but research has uncovered that the band played nearly the same set during this period in the tour. I have borrowed this setlist from the March 5, 1981, New Jersey show as a close rendition of what we witnessed that night. 

Since then, Cheap Trick have released 15 more studio albums, along with a healthy number of compilations and live albums. Their newest release, In Another World, is set to drop April 9. The single, “Boys & Girls & Rock N Roll” proves the band has lost little of the raw zeal which made them one of America’s best rock bands. 

Categories: Live Reviews

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