Cheap Trick at the Minnesota Zoo, 7/6/13

Cheap Trick at the Minnesota Zoo, 7/6/13
Photo by Brian St. Clair

Cheap Trick
Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley
Saturday, July 6, 2013

Cheap Trick was in the Twin Cities last June with Aerosmith, but it honestly couldn't have been too soon for the return of one the greatest American rock 'n' roll bands. Helping round out the extended Fourth of July weekend, the sold-out amphitheater was ready to go as the sun set for what was billed as "An evening with Cheap Trick" at the Minnesota Zoo. With their barnstorming firebrand style of heavy rock on one of the hottest days of the summer, Cheap Trick made sure to make the holiday extra explosive and sparkled as they took the stage for their nearly two-hour set.

Decked out in what could have easily been a holdover from Pride weekend, Robin Zander wore a sparkling Captain hat, white leather pants, and sunglasses that showered the audience in light and gave him and his bandmates true rock-star presence.

Adding to the heat, the band belted the crowd with their theme of sorts, "Hello There," and a driving "Elo Kiddies" that suggested the tone and spirit of the night. While there was quite a bit of messing around and having fun, this was a nitty-gritty rock show and the perfect soundtrack for a red-hot summer Saturday night.

While he maintains a raw approach and seriously driving attack and style, guitarist Rick Nielsen makes personality as much a part of his instrument as his fierce playing. Living up to his own iconography, Nielsen continually juggles playing with gesturing and his own struts and swag. In a velvet suit jacket, tennis shoes, and seemingly endless models of amazing guitars from his collection, he would engage audience members and stage crew with thumbs up, winks, and a perfect ability to toss guitar picks to his fans, which he did all through the night.

Eating it up, the crowd stood from beginning to end and pounced along to Nielsen's son and drummer, Dax, who never held back with a pounding and steady beat for a rousing "On Top of the World" that gave Cheap Trick a chance to really connect with the audience, who benefited from the intimacy and beautiful setting of the Minnesota Zoo.

Nielsen stood atop a pedestal that allowed for more interaction, giving him a different vantage to aim more guitar picks at the unsuspecting folks in the crowd. With good nature he'd hit his parts perfectly in between each gag and demonstrated a seasoned relationship and interplay with his bandmates while trading riffs with and leads with Zander.

"We don't get to play at the zoo very often, we live in a zoo. Like Charles Manson once asked, 'Is it hot in here or am I crazy?' Anyone want to hear a filthy song?" asked Nielsen before tearing into a ripping "She's Tight." Getting the girls really moving, Cheap Trick continued to keep the party explosive for more sing alongs with "If You Want My Love."

"This one's for the cute little girl with the binky in her mouth!" Nielsen winked as he signed another fan's picture disc copy of Dream Police. "Here's a lullaby for you," he said as he was greeted by the slow groove of "Need Your Love" that found Zander's vibrating falsetto providing a psychedelic ambiance.


Burning their popularized version of Big Star's "In the Street," the '70s band always kept the music charging with Zander's voice never letting up. Like a fine wine, his vocals and presence managed through hit after hit and would be given a short break during Tom Petersson's textured bass solos. As a bit of surprise, the short display of his patented 12-string bass added to the transformation of the night as it slowly started to sprinkle rain. Continuing to introduce the band, Nielsen welcomed Zander back to the stage. With acoustic guitar in hand, he played the opening strains of "The Flame," which eventually like any '80s power-ballad rock video, was complemented with steadily building raindrops. Providing extended loveliness, many women in the crowd sang and swooned along to Zander's rich voice.

Shredding through his myriad amazing guitars, Nielsen kicked it in for the home stretch as hit after relentless hit pulverized the raging and now cooled-off crowd. Keeping things moving at full steam, Zander got the crowd chanting along with "I Want You to Want Me," "Dream Police," and a climactic "Surrender."

"We're all alright! We're all alright!" they shouted along while Nielsen doused the crowd with heaping handfuls of guitar picks.

Critic's Bias: The combination of seeing Cheap Trick in the intimacy of the Minnesota Zoo on such an amazing summer night was completely irresistible. Those that made it out will agree Cheap Trick really know what they do and do it so damn well.

The Crowd: Incredibly serious carousing and energetic rock fans. Even Joey Molland from Badfinger knew where the party was at Saturday night.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Hey, we're from Rockford!" shouted someone in the crowd, to which Nielsen responded, "No you're not! No one's from Rockford!"

Random Notebook Dump: Either I'm just a strident dinosaur-rock fan or the combination of sound and setting really made this the best show of the year I've seen thus far.

Hello There
Elo Kiddies
He's a Whore
Just Got Back
On Top of the World
Ain't That a Shame
She's Tight
Heaven Tonight
If You Want My Love
Need Your Love
In the Street
Stop This Game
I Know What I Want
The Flame
I Want You to Want Me
Dream Police
California Man

Auf Wiedersehen

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