Cheap Trick - Budokan!

by Zane Ewton

Rock bands had been to Tokyo's Budokan before and many more have passed through its halls since 1978. Even the Beatles made their Japanese debut at the Budokan. Despite the history of this martial arts hall, Cheap Trick at Budokan is the event that put it on the rock and roll map. The same event, a world away for its Rockford, IL home, finally took Cheap Trick to another level of rock stardom.

The band spent the better part of the '70s slogging away in the Midwest and as opening acts for the likes of Kiss and Queen.

Three Cheap Trick albums passed the American market without much notice, but kids in Japan were going crazy for the band's infectious rock and colorful image. In a phenomenon that may have inspired the final moments in This is Spinal Tap, Cheap Trick set out on a tour of Japan, where they were conquering heroes. Japanese teenagers welcomed these weird Americans with open arms and Beatlemania-like enthusiasm.

Ten days in Japan were summed up with a Friday night show that was filmed and recorded as a gift of sorts to the Japanese faithful. What was intended to be a double live album was carved in half and released. Radio stations in the U.S. received a few copies via import and started playing the ramped up Cheap Trick songs. Before long a stateside release brought the Budokan experience to America. Finally, the U.S. got Cheap Trick. At Budokan ranked at the top with the other classic bands that released commercially successful live records at the time.

Thirty years, and a few rehashed versions later, the band released Budokan! This four disc set is the definitive Cheap Trick at Budokan experience. One disc is a remastered and slightly extended version of At Budukan. Two discs comprise the complete Budokan concert. This is the same two discs that were released on their own to commemorate the 20th anniversary. The highlight of the set is the fourth disc, the filmed Budokan concert that has only been seen once on Japanese television.

The sound has been remastered to 5.1 audio and sounds better than the CDs, while the film includes that warm, vintage feel of a rock concert in the '70s. Mashing the sound and images together explains what made those Japanese teenagers so crazy. Cheap Trick is ridiculous fun. Big colorful songs. Big colorful personalities. Anyone who has ever seen even a photograph of Cheap Trick knows the dynamic between its four members. If there was a mold of what a rock and roll star should look like in the 1970's, it would look exactly like vocalist Robin Zander or bassist Tom Petersson. Beyond the looks, Zander is one of the most appealing and varied vocalists in rock music. Petersson's 12 string bass pyrotechnics are absurd in the best way.

Guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos are the yin to the handsome yang. Nielsen attacks the stage with wild eyes, an upturned baseball cap and a red sweater. Carlos looks like your dad's accountant and casually smokes his cigarette while his drums sound like a rock landslide. The four members create a wonderfully colorful and bizarre image. Before even playing a note.

The songs at Budokan collect the best tracks from the band's first three albums - Cheap Trick, In Color and Heaven Tonight. All great records, but in a live setting, the songs crash into your ears. The set list Cheap Trick put together for Budokan creates the archetypal rock and roll concert. The band came out with all guns blazing on "Hello There," the song equivalent of shouting "Hello Cleveland, are you ready to rock!"

There are no ballads at this Cheap Trick show. Just songs that rock a little more rowdy than others. The rock is relentless. Casual fans no doubt know the classics like "Surrender," but the songs are impeccable from top to bottom. They range from sweet to menacing, and are all delivered with freshness and vitality. Every band should be forced to work Midwest nightclubs for half a decade if this is the result.

Carlos and Nielsen shake the rafters with "Elo Kiddies." Petersson kicks off "Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace" until it builds into a monolith. "Lookout" is pure rock/pop riffage. "Can't Hold On" unleashes Zander as a menacing serial killer. By the end of "Goodnight" - a reprise of "Hello There" with a few obvious changes - you feel just like one of the sweat-drenched fans at Budokan. With no adornments except a bowtie and some giant drumsticks, Cheap Trick were ridiculously good in concert.

The DVD includes a few bonus features. Two performances from the band's 30th anniversary return to Budokan in April, 2008 and a short interview segment with the band members about their experience in Japan.

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