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No Cheap Trick; Budokan! better than ever

Posted Wednesday, November 12, 2008, at 10:57 AM

Nineteen-hundred and seventy-nine was the year that everything changed for Cheap Trick.

That was the year the band, who called America's heartland home at the time, morphed from a regionally-successful act into international superstars.

The key to that amazing transformation? An album that was recorded and released as almost an afterthought.

Cheap Trick at Budokan.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of that "overnight success," Sony Legacy has released Cheap Trick at Budokan as a stunning, three-CD, one-DVD set, simply titled Budokan!

Strange as it sounds in 2008, 30 years ago, Cheap Trick couldn't even get arrested in the Unites States, such was their anonymity to the radio-listening masses.

But strange things happen to strange people, and Cheap Trick might be one of the strangest ensembles of to ever hit the pop charts.

Calling Rockford, Ill., home, Cheap Trick was made up of a pair of heartthrobs - singer/guitarist Robin Zander and bass player Tom Petersson, along with a pair of cartoonish-looking, non-heartthrobs - lead guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun. E. Carlos.

After releasing a trio of brilliant, but largely-ignored albums that bit the dust chart-wise (Cheap Trick, In Color and Heaven Tonight), the foursome's chances at breaking through to capture the attention of America's record buyers looked pretty grim as the seventies neared an end. And oh yeah, the band was rapidly running out of money, too.

But things were different many miles from the center of the United States.

For over in Japan, Cheap Trick was viewed with intense affection. While the group's first three albums had flown well under the radar in America, in Japan, the albums had all went Gold and even spawned a few Top 10 singles.

So with this backdrop, Cheap Trick headed to Japan in spring of 1978 for their first headlining tour of the Orient. When they got there, they were treated like top-of-the-bill rock stars, a far cry from slogging across the US, playing some 300 shows a year while opening for Kiss, Santana and Kansas, like the group was accustomed to in its homeland.

The idea (CBS/Sony's) was to capture the group's April 28-30 shows at Tokyo's Budokan as an album strictly marketed to its Japanese fans, kind of like a souvenir for them, to ride the crest of popularity Cheap Trick had reached in Japan.

But when that "souvenir" made its way back to these shores in a domestically-prepared form (February 1979), Cheap Trick at Budokan hit number four on the Billboard charts and shot the band into the stratosphere. The album spawned three massive hit singles, "Surrender," "Ain't That A Shame," and the one that proved to be the ice-breaker for the band - "I Want You To Want Me." The original 10-cut album would go on to hit triple platinum status and later land on Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest albums of all time.

So how do you improve on something like that?

For starters, Budokan! gathers up all 19 tunes recorded by Cheap Trick at the famed venue in two discs titled The Complete Concert, a two-CD set that was put together for the 20th anniversary of the shows and first released in 1998.

The Complete Concert expands considerably on the 1978 release of Cheap Trick at Budokan and includes killer versions of some of the group's heavier material - "Downed," "Auf Wiedersehen" and "California Man" - all must-haves for Cheap Trick fans.

But the real jewel in the treasure chest of Budokan! is the DVD.

Pristinely-shot, the DVD features the group's April 28 show and includes 15 songs from that night. This performance was shown only once (way back in 1978) on Japanese TV, before languishing in the vaults for nearly three decades.

Also packed into the DVD are two tunes ("Voices" and "If You Want My Love") from Cheap Trick's 2008 appearance at Budokan, along with interviews with the band recalling their first headlining trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

After hearing Cheap Trick at Budokan over a number of different sound systems (not to mention different formats - 8-track, cassette, album and CD) over the past 30 years, it's a real treat to watch the DVD and see just how things went down, and just how much the Japanese truly loved Cheap Trick.

It's cool to see Bun E. Carlos pound away on the skins, cigarette dangling halfway out of his mouth, while Robin Zander commands center stage in a suave, hip kind of way, while screams of adoration fill the indoor arena.

Tom Petersson is full of vim and vigor, bouncing his way between Carlos' drum riser and Zander's microphone stand. But the show-stealer is Rick Nielson in all his spastic glory. With his red sweater and turned-up baseball cap, hopping around the stage smiling like a deranged Eddie Haskell while firing off power chord after power chord, Nielson and the mouth-watering line of vintage guitars behind him has to be seen to fully be appreciated.

A tip of the hat to Japan is in order. For had they not opened our eyes to what was right in our backyard, Cheap Trick might still be playing bars and outdoors parties around Chicagoland.

Like Nielson himself says in the interview portion of the DVD, "The Budokan made us famous and we made the Budokan famous."

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Terry Mullins, Sports Editor
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Since my own high school sports career fizzled out before it really reached its zenith, I have managed to live vicariously through the student/athletes of the 16 high schools I've covered for Areawide Media since 2001. I've witnessed the highest of highs in the form of state championships. I have also seen first-hand the sting of disappointment when the ultimate prize was within reach, but still eluded the grasp of its pursuer. But through all the ups and downs associated with high school sports, my respect for the young competitors that suit up each night, along with the men and women who guide them, remains unwavering. Blog mission: With my passion for music, especially live music, running second only to my passion for sports, I'll try to devote this space to both. Especially when it concerns our region and what's happening around it. Look for commentary and features on area sports figures and musicians, along with things to get out and do in the beautiful Spring River/Ozarks area. But I'll not totally ignore the outside - I'll also hit on some national happenings in the wide worlds of sports and music.
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