all right: Cheap Trick’s Nielsen at The Egg. Photo
by John Whipple.
By John Rodat
The Egg, April 22
In fifth grade, the happiest place in the world to me was
the Edgewood Acres trailer park, where my friend Paul lived
with his mother and sister. Paul’s mom worked during the day,
leaving the trailer—like a very low tree house—open for use
as a base of operations for undisciplined 11-year-old boys.
We’d fill up on Froot Loops (sugared cereals were forbidden
in my house), and then follow his sister, Tracy, and her boyfriend
out to the bare patch in the woods surrounding the trailer
park. There, we’d harass them until they would either chase
us off with threats of violence, or bribe us with headspinning
hits off Marlboro reds or a can of his Budweiser. Thus supplied,
we’d bolt back to the trailer, where we’d attempt to blow
out the speakers of the record player in his mom’s bedroom.
One late afternoon in 1979, along the muddy path back from
the clearing, we found a moldering record jacket containing
a warped LP: 10 tracks of the greatest rock & roll the
world has ever known (briefly distorted beyond recognition
every two seconds or so, as the stylus hit the bent plastic),
Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokon. Fiercer than the Beatles,
less clownish than Kiss (the previous staples), Cheap Trick
reinvented rock for me.
I had, therefore, some ambivalence about seeing them at the
Egg: Follow a dirty path from a grotto in the trees to an
unsupervised trailer, all sugar-high and spacey from cigarettes
and half a can of beer—that’s the way you see Cheap Trick.
“I’m just gonna feel so old,” I feared. Exactly the
opposite proved to be the case.
It’s hard to say that anyone in rock & roll has aged gracefully,
exactly—rock & roll being a less than graceful enterprise
in itself. But Cheap Trick have aged very, very well. Maybe
it’s because no one in the band has been knighted, maybe it’s
because whatever dependencies and/or excesses they had in
the past were not indispensable to their output—who knows?
But Cheap Trick rocked the Egg like they rocked the master
bedroom of Paul’s trailer at the Edgewood Acres in 1979. Rick
Nielsen’s guitar work is still a whole lot of melody dressed
in a suitable snarl; bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Bun.
E. Carlos still provide rhythmic support of simple force and
appropriate (never show-offy or posturing) exuberance; and—most
amazingly—Robin Zander has still got pipes.
There was, perhaps, a touch more reverb on his voice than
in years gone by, but Zander easily went from the high notes
of the late-career hit “The Flame” to the belting of each
sustained “awaaaaaaay” in the well-loved “Surrender” without
a hitch or gasp. The consistency of his voice over the years
really is remarkable. Zander is who Axel thought he
Of course, it helps that Zander has the songs of Rick Nielsen
as material. You can say that nothing after the first four
albums lived up to the quality of good-time, top-down, balls-out
rock of those years, and you’d be right; but four straight
albums of that caliber buys you some forgiveness for later
lapses. And the band pleased mightily with the rockers of
yore—“If You Want My Love,” “Heaven Tonight,” “Dream Police,”
“Ain’t That a Shame”—and threw in some strong later numbers,
such as ’88’s “Never Had a Lot to Lose” just to remind us
that it wasn’t all decline after Budokon. The audience—significantly
gray as it was—appreciatively crowded the stage’s edge, fist-pumping
and hell-yeahing like folks a third their age.
So, if the newest songs didn’t pack the punch of the faves,
if there were dry patches, it was probably just as well. If
it had only been the old songs, some of us might have broken
Hurley, Gideon Freudmann
Club Helsinki, Great Barrington,
Mass., April 24
Michael Hurley, now in his early 60s, has been creating his
singular body of work for nearly 40 years. His is a career
that’s ambled along with the languid pace and bemused curiosity
of a 19th-century hermit dropped into the 20th century. His
songs celebrate pork chops, neon signs and a fractured but
eminently poetic sense of the romantic in its every guise.
Hurley now lives again in Oregon—he’s drifted from state to
state with a mix of nomadic restlessness and bohemian necessity,
with extended stays and actual postal addresses over the past
decade in Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont and Ohio. His appearance
last week at Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, Mass., while
sadly underattended, found him clearly enjoying the setting
and attention, as he performed for a hefty hour and 40 minutes.
Hurley played the first few songs on banjo, settling into
his guitar for the bulk of the performance, and closed with
a few numbers on the fiddle. He plays all three instruments
with economy and casual ease, slyly embedding his own invention
into the proceedings with nary a hint of fanfare or dazzle.
In fact, lack of fanfare is a trait found in every aspect
of Hurley’s music. His songwriting eschews big bangs, just
moving along with its own unique metabolism, getting where
it needs to and then simply stopping, no big finales.
Last year saw the release of Hurley’s new Sweetkorn
and a reissue of his 1964 debut, originally called First
Songs and now retitled Blueberry Wine. That these
two works sound like they could be sitting side-by-side enjoying
a beer together is a testament to his unflagging vision and
artistry. Free of pretense and artifice, Michael Hurley is
an unassuming national treasure. He sings his songs to whatever
size audience shows up, releasing records whenever some small
label knocks at his door. However, his are the songs that
will be the durable standards, able to traverse the decades
and centuries with their character intact.
Gideon Freudmann opened the show with his solo cello performance.
A facile player, he uses digital delay and loops to create
layers of his own playing. Alas, these groove-oriented improvs
quickly fell into a tiresome sameness. A weak singer and genre-bound
writer dependent on forced cleverness, he’d be a great addition
to an ensemble where his obvious strengths as a player could
be better utilized.