Cheap Trick - Windsor, Ontario March 24, 2017
Exene Cervenka & John Doe - Detroit, Michigan March 25, 2017
I’ve seen Cheap Trick so many times. I’m not positive, but the count is.....well, it’s a lot. I have a spreadsheet. Many of those were simply opportunity - an easy chance to see a great band that’s constantly on tour - but yeah, I’m what you’d call a big fan. I’ve seen them in arenas, sheds, festivals, race tracks, theatres, clubs, bars, private parties.....and casinos. On March 24th we descended beneath the Renaissance Center and under the Detroit River to Ontario, Canada to see them at The Colosseum in Caesar’s Windsor Casino. That’s my 3rd Trick show in Windsor and 2nd at Ceasar’s, if you’re keeping score. It’s a clean, sterile setting with movie-theater seating, nice carpet, and expensive-drink lines for miles. This ain’t Irving Plaza or Harpo’s. Despite the lecture hall atmosphere, good tickets are relatively easy to come by and it’s comfortable to a fault.
After seeing a band that many times the surprises are few and far between, but Cheap Trick usually throws something interesting in between the predictable fan-faves. What are they gonna pull out from the first record? What are the deep cuts gonna be? I’ve seen and heard them all, but I still get excited to hear something I wouldn’t expect, something most people there don’t know. This time the deep cuts were Lookout (a great, upbeat, live-only track originally from Budokan), Baby Loves to Rock, and She’s Tight - a couple songs that are very similar from One on One and All Shook Up respectively. It’s always cool to hear Big Eyes, and Never Had a Lot To Lose (from 1988’s comeback album Lap of Luxury) was a bit unexpected. The set included 5 covers - Velvet Underground, Beatles, The Move, Big Star, and Dobie Gray. That’s about 25% of the show, and they didn’t even do a couple of their staple remakes (Ain’t That A Shame and Don’t Be Cruel). And of course, there are the hits - the ones everyone knows and were there to hear.
The band was a little looser than usual. Long-time fans might have caught the stumble during Top of the World, and I took some satisfaction in seeing a band that plays 200 shows a year still mess up the way my own little group does from time to time. Drummer Daxx Nielsen was getting over a bout of stomach flu, but you couldn’t tell it from the smile on his face and the youthful kick in the ass he gives the three front-line men, 30+ years his senior. Robin Zander continues to amaze. He might not be quite as consistent as he was a decade ago, but he’s still able to sing circles around most other rock vocalists, turning songs like Voices and The Flame into vocal clinics for anyone who’s ever stood in front of a microphone.
These days a lot of the novelty has worn off, and I even look back myself and ask “why” sometimes, but they still bring the goods to the stage and the songs are timeless. Even staples like Surrender and Dream Police are delivered with the same tenacity and spirit as the deep cuts and newer songs. Your entertainment dollar goes a long way with Cheap Trick, and I have a feeling I’ll be seeing them again someday.
What is the polar-opposite of seeing a classic-rock concert in a 5000-seat theater attached to a Vegas-style casino in Detroit’s Canadian sister-city? How about a special acoustic set by a couple of legends from the Los Angeles punk scene at an old warehouse-converted-event-space down a dark side-street in Detroit’s New Center area? John Doe and Exene Cervenka - the voices of X and The Knitters - flew into town specially for the event which was a fundraiser for Public Pool, an art co-op in Hamtramck.
I often find myself wishing I lived in Southern California where stuff like this seems to happen constantly - legendary bands like X playing little shows - special events that are usually limited to the proximity of where they live. They don’t happen in Detroit often, so I just couldn’t pass it up. We parked around the corner, stuffed anything of value from the car into our pockets to deter would-be thieves, and headed into the warehouse.
This ain't no casino. The concrete floors, exposed oil-stained wood walls, and high ceilings feel SO Detroit. There was a small bar with a couple choices for liquor (at less than ½ the price of Ceasar’s) and a card table where they were handing out PBR's that were gratis with your donation to get in. We stocked up and headed into the dark back room where John and Exene were just about to start.
The setting was casual and loose, with some funny banter between songs about death, loss, longing, and want. “You’re harshing my mellow,” Exene said quietly (and jokingly) after John joked about the dark subject matter. There were a couple old country tunes played, including an incredible version of Something to Brag About, originally recorded by Charlie Louvin and Melba Montgomery, later by George Jones and Tammy Wynette. They did some great Knitters songs (Skin-Deep Town, Poor Little Critter on the Road) and a few X tunes that were the best received - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts, The New World, Burning House Of Love to name a couple.
I’ve seen both X and The Knitters a few times but I’ve never seen or heard John and Exene really come together like this. It’s no secret that they have an amazing chemistry and those unique harmonies are a part of the lexicon of American punk rock, but the stripped-down setting really drove that home. They were both in very fine voice and John’s lack of prowess on his Guild acoustic (blaming his “bass-player fingers”) were overcome by the spirit and vibe of the set. It was a really special thing to see, and I don’t think anyone would have complained if they’d played twice as long. The 45-ish minute set went by fast and people lingered well after, drinking and talking, waiting for more bands and the 50/50 raffle (that my wife won!). I was so glad I got out and saw this show - there’s a decent chance I won’t have the opportunity again, and it was everything I’d hoped.
Jeremy Porter lives near Detroit and fronts the rock and roll band Jeremy Porter And The Tucos. Follow them on Facebook to read his road-blog chronicling their adventures and see his photo series documenting the disgusting bathrooms in the dives they play. He's a whiskey snob, an unapologetic fan of "good" metal, and couldn't really care less about the UofM - OSU rivalry since he once saw The Stones at the Horseshoe. Still, go blue.