ANDERSON — It was the place to be. Ann Arbor’s popular club, Second Chance, was hosting one of its popular live music performances that Saturday night way back in 1977. Cheap Trick was still under the national radar, but their home turf midwestern fans loved their authentic blend of power pop rock and their wide-awake delivery. That night, Cheap Trick was teetering just on the brink of superfame.
“That was one of my stomping grounds,” recalled lead guitarist Rick Nielsen in a recent interview. He easily remembered the early days when Cheap Trick might end up playing at Second Chance with types like the MC5 and Fred “Sonic” Smith.
Yours truly still remembers the way Cheap Trick seized hold of the crowded, cavernous building. You had Robin Zander’s quintessential rock star hair and solid vocals. There was Nielsen, full of antics, with his signature flipped-up baseball cap. Tom Petersson on bass oozed the rock mystique, and then-drummer Bun E. Carlos punctuated the unvarnished flavor of Cheap Trick with his nerdy back-office look.
Cheap Trick delivered high energy, unpretentious rock. It was music with an earthy edge, earnest performers and that requisite amped presentation. It was fun, and it wasn’t long before the rest of the world figured it out.
From their early start in 1973, making the midwestern circuit, and after touring abroad under the perhaps ill-chosen name Sick Man of Europe, Cheap Trick released their first album, “Cheap Trick,” in 1977. While the United States was slow to warm, Cheap Trick boomed onto the scene in Japan where their first three albums went gold.
There, the members of Cheap Trick stepped off the plane in 1978 to be surprised by an adoring, frenzied fan base not unlike the adulation we associate with The Beatles. There’s a name for it: Trickmania.
“They liked us. I felt they were the smartest people on earth,” said Nielsen. “The whole country liked Cheap Trick.”
It was the raw, live recording of “Cheap Trick at Budokan,” made on that Japan tour and never originally intended for release in the United States, that finally brought the band’s megastardom home.
Cheap Trick didn’t happen in a sound booth. It was born on the road.
That live, undiluted delivery of favorites like “I Want You to Want Me,” “Surrender,” “Dream Police” and “The Flame” still rocks the stage. Cheap Trick comes to Anderson’s Hoosier Park Saturday with a performance that’s fueled by an unsullied love for their craft.
“I love playing. It’s one of my favorite things in life,” said Nielsen. Indeed, when I caught up with Neilsen on a Monday morning to chat about their upcoming visit to Anderson, he was at his Illinois home, laying in bed with a guitar.
“My guitar has been here with me overnight,” said Nielsen, noting that before he fell asleep, he’d been working on a song for an upcoming album. Nielsen said the band hopes to release the new album later this year. Nielsen, Zander and Petersson are currently accompanied by Daxx Nielsen, Rick’s son, on drums.
Nielsen is known for his vast collection of guitars, including his famous custom-made 5-neck Hamer. Expect the musician to bring about 20 guitars from his collection in the neighborhood of 400 to Anderson.
“I’ll play every one,” said Nielsen. “I like to show off my guitars. I change guitars every song.”
Yes, he’ll bring along that 5-neck guitar.
“That’ll be there,” said the musician. There are actually three of the 5-neck guitars, one of which has been retired. Ask how you play such a hefty, bizarre instrument, or indeed even why, Nielsen responds, “I have no idea. I play it because I don’t know any better.
Nielsen’s love of music and guitars was founded early on. His dad owned Rockford Music House in Rockford, Ill.
“I worked at the music store from when I was eight years old until I was 17,” said Nielsen, now 67. The spark never dimmed.
Nielsen said the Hoosier Park audience can expect to hear Cheap Trick favorites. He also said it’s possible fans might get a taste of some of the music they’re putting together for the new album.
Clearly feeling pretty good about the band both past and present, Nielsen noted, “We’re Cheap Trick. It’s going to be good.”
Apparently so, since the show at Anderson's Hoosier Park is sold out. Visit www.ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000, or visit www.hoosierpark.com for more information. Hoosier Park is located at 4500 Dan Patch Circle in Anderson.
If you go: What: Cheap Trick When: Saturday, Feb. 22, 8 p.m. Where: Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, 4500 Dan Patch Circle, Anderson Sold out Cheap Trick Cheap Trick is an American rock band from Rockford, Illinois, formed in 1973. The band consists of Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson, and Bun E. Carlos. Origin: Rockford, Ill. Members: Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, Bun E. Carlos, Tom Petersson, Randy Hogan, Jon Brant, Pete Comita Lead singers: Robin Zander (1974-), Randy Hogan (1974-1974) Record labels: Epic Records, Warner Bros. Records