Cheap Trick played the Pearl at the Palms Casino Resort on Thursday, October 12, 2023.
It’s been half a century, and Cheap Trick is still rocking stages around the globe! Rockford, Illinois’ favorite sons are still going strong, having released their latest studio album, IN ANOTHER WORLD, in 2021; it’s their 20th record and isn’t likely to be the last. Classic anthems like “I Want You to Want Me,” “Surrender,” “Dream Police,” and “The Flame” remain staples of rock radio to this day. If you live in the civilized world, you’ve heard Cheap Trick’s music. There’s no escaping it… and that’s not a bad thing.
Cheap Trick’s lineup nowadays consists of classic vocalist/guitarist Robin Zander, classic lead guitarist Rick Nielsen, and classic bassist Tom Petersson. Rounding out the lineup are Daxx Nielsen (Rick’s son) on drums, and Robin Taylor Zander (Robin Zander’s son) on additional guitar/vocals. It’s a powerful lineup, and as I quickly learned, one capable of keeping the classic tunes alive.
The Pearl inside the Palms Casino Resort is a fantastic venue in which to experience a rock and roll show. The shape of the venue allows for many people on several levels, yet it remains fairly small and intimate despite this. I’ve experienced many great concerts here over the years, and it was my first time back in the place since seeing Billy Idol before the pandemic way back in 2019. To me, this sounded like the perfect place to see Cheap Trick, one of my all-time favorite rock bands. This was my second time seeing the band; the first was at the Paris in 2010 when the group was performing The Beatles’ SGT. PEPPER album in its entirety.
I was definitely curious to see how a live performance from Cheap Trick would measure up; these guys’ studio albums and classic songs stand the test of time and then some, but can they still deliver on the live stage? This long-time fan is happy to announce the answer is a resounding YES. Robin Zander has long had one of rock’s most distinctive voices, and I’m pleased to announce that’s something that hasn’t changed. Rick Nielsen remains one of the music world’s best guitar players, not only with skills on his instrument, but also playing some very interesting looking pieces of equipment (and don’t worry, we did get to see the infamous “five-neck” guitar near the end of the show). It’s also good to see Tom Petersson doing his thing, playing a 12-string bass (I didn’t even know those existed!) throughout the gig, even getting a solo to showcase his talents.
Not to be outdone are the younger members of the band. Rick’s son Daxx is a killer drummer who has proven himself on the stage for over a decade now. Filling the spot behind the drum stool once filled by Bun E. Carlos is no easy task, but the younger Nielsen shows his worth and then some at every single Cheap Trick gig. This was my first time seeing a gig that had Robin Taylor Zander as the fifth member of the band, but even he proved to be a chip off the old block as well. His father even backed off and allowed him to take lead vocals on one of the Cheap Trick classics, “Downed,” from the classic sophomore effort IN COLOR. The younger Zander certainly shined singing lead, proving he has a place in this band. The other band members also mentioned he had a solo album out, something I’m sure to look up once I’m done writing this review.
Of course, one of the signature elements of Cheap Trick goes beyond the music, and that’s the sense of humor and musical chemistry these guys have. Rick Nielsen gave a shout-out to several of his friends in attendance, including legendary rock keyboardist Gregg Giuffria (who was seated right behind me on the floor), and then he mad a rather odd comical remark thanking Jake E. Lee for NOT showing up (not quite sure what was meant here, but it certainly got some laughs from the audience). You can tell these guys love playing together and enjoy their time on stage with one another, even prompting audience participation on a few occasions.
One of the biggest challenges a band like Cheap Trick faces when they take to the stage is choosing a setlist. When you’ve got 20 albums worth of material to choose from, condensing it to a 90-minute set time is no easy task. Upon doing some research I even learned that the band was modifying their setlist between tour dates, meaning that if one were to follow the group on these shows, they’d never get the exact same show twice! Leave it to Cheap Trick to keep the audience guessing in the best of ways. This setlist was heaviest on songs from sophomore album IN COLOR and third album HEAVEN TONIGHT, but didn’t overlook the hits from albums like DREAM POLICE (including its classic title cut) and LAP OF LUXURY (which featured “The Flame,” the band’s big late-80s comeback hit). But Cheap Trick isn’t content to do a “just the hits” set, and even included a track from their latest album, IN ANOTHER WORLD, a song from the 1997 self-titled album, as well as a handful of deeper cuts and minor hits, including numbers like “She’s Tight,” “Big Eyes,” and of course, the cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” which the band famously covered on their legendary AT BUDOKAN live album.
If there’s one minor complaint with this otherwise stellar concert, it was the fairly short set time of about 90 minutes. I gladly would’ve sat through two sets of Cheap Trick in concert if given the option. As such, many of my favorite classic cuts from the band didn’t make the set. Some of the biggest omissions included “ELO Kiddies,” “Taxman, Mr. Thief,” “California Man,” “Voices,” “Gonna Raise Hell” (even though Rick played a guitar with this title on its fretboard), “Need Some Love,” “Stop This Game,” “I Can’t Take It,” “If You Want My Love,” “Tonight It’s You,” “When I Wake Up Tomorrow,” and one of my personal favorites, “Mighty Wings” from the TOP GUN soundtrack. There were also surprisingly few cover songs in the set; it would’ve been great to hear at least one of their Beatles covers. But again, Cheap Trick’s discography is MASSIVE. You could easily make a setlist consisting entirely of the songs they DIDN’T play, which is a testament to how amazing their career and discography are. For the limited set time, the band crammed in a ton of excellent music. The audience wasn’t disappointed.
Cheap Trick wowed this audience at the Palms, giving rock fans in Vegas a truly epic evening with no shortage of great tunes and solid musicianship. Yes, I wish they’d been able to play more than one set, but that doesn’t stop me from saying this was easily one of the best rock shows in Vegas in 2023, and I’ll certainly be seeing the group again the next chance I get. Fans shouldn’t hesitate to catch the band live in concert… even all these years later, they’re all alright!
PHOTO CREDIT: All photos by Stephy Muzio for ZRockR Magazine – All Rights Reserved