They Just (Look) a Little Weird

Cheap Trick was always one strange looking act. Never more so than in the late Seventies. And now folks, we have the film to prove it.

In the old film footage that’s available for the first time as part of a new 30th anniversary boxed set of the band’s one great album, Live at Budokan!, there’s pretty boy Robin Zander, out front, dressed all in white, with his long blonde hair all wispy and cute (every toss of it brought another wave of teenage girl shrieking), next to Rick Nielsen who remains perhaps the hardest rock guitarist ever to watch. His whole hyper nerd persona, complete with bow tie, button down cardigan sweater, cap with bill turned up and incessant mugging is really nauseating. What in the world was that boy thinking? Angus Young in knee pants is one thing. Nielsen is another. His bouncing around and wide–eyed mock surprise look made KISS look like Shakespeare. That whole rap was cool for about a minute and depending on your tastes, pretty much sealed the deal, good or bad.

While Tom Petersson’s only indulgence was a rainbow scarf hanging from the neck of his bass, the real curveball in the whole thing was back behind the drum kit where Bun E. Carlos, puffed on cigarettes and looked like something straight out of decadent Berlin between the wars. I was never quite sure what he was going for with that look. Hearing him talk in the new interviews that come with the new boxed set, it’s obvious he’s a salt–of–the–earth, meat–and–potatoes kind of guy. No big mysteries lurking there. But that little mustache was always weird. Same thing for the guy in Sparks. So what…was it some kind of latent salute to totalitarian dictators or what??? Somehow all this stylistic schizophrenia looked squeaky clean to the Japanese, according to the interview with their Japanese label rep at the time.

The story of Budokan is a well worn tale these days: band that can’t break through at home, goes to Japan, cuts live record in front of screaming hordes and that album breaks through worldwide. The trouble is they could never top it. Sure, some of the studio records before and since have had their moments, my favorite may be 2006’s Rockford, but they never had the pitch perfect energy of Budokan!. That’s really funny when you consider that the band didn’t even have “I Want You To Want Me,” in their set that night, but threw it in at their manager’s suggestion when they realized that the set they’d planned on playing was too short by a song. But then those are the happy accidents that are often the proof that a project is gonna be special almost in spite of itself.

On November 11, the film of their triumph at Budokan, shown once on Japanese TV at the time and then packed away until now, will be for sale for the first time when Sony BMG Legacy will release a 30th anniversary boxed set of Live at Budokan! that includes the original album remastered plus a CD that replicates the audio from the DVD and a pair of CDs containing the remastered original concert.

Now lest I be nothing but negative here, the new interview segment Looking Back (Geez, the title department is really working overtime!) is charming and makes clear that the four of them were genuinely knocked out by all the attention that they received over there. To go from playing small clubs and being relative unknowns at home, to not being able to look out the window in your hotel room for fear of creating a stampede of fans into moving traffic, was quite a nice shock, one that in the interviews is still visible on their faces today. Of course, the band had not broken big in the U.S. at the time—it would take Live at Budokan! to do that— and that made being feted like The Beatles even stranger. As Tom Petersson says at the end of the interviews how the band thought at the time, “No one will ever believe this at home. And they didn’t.”

Trey's picture

I would not care if Rick dressed in broccoli considering the guitar he played on Surrender!Trey

Chris's picture

I'm not sure what overall sales numbers would say, but I recall Dream Police being a fairly big hit for them (both the full LP and the single) - my impression was that Budokan opened the door for Dream Police to happen, but post Dream Police the career as a band sputtered and died.