Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Trick Tuesday: "Cheap Trick at Budokan" (1978, 1979)

Actually, I don't think I ever owned "Budokan" on cassette.  This one was available elsewhere on the web for $3 - congrats to the lucky buyer!


Forget about the four guys pictured on the cover, and forget about the instruments they are depicted playing.  The most prominent performance featured on Cheap Trick at Budokan belongs to the thousands of screaming Japanese fans who bed the entire album with a more-than-approving roar.  I don’t know exactly what you’d credit them for (“din”, perhaps?), but it always seemed a bit of a gyp to me that this particular crowd doesn’t receive a musician credit in the liner notes.

Honestly, I feel like I should have something more to say about Cheap Trick at Budokan than I really do.  I purchased it in tandem with Heaven Tonight, so that story’s already shot in the post concerning that album.  It’s the album that made Cheap Trick’s career, it’s arguably the quintessential live album of the great era of live albums (sorry, but I’m just not a Peter Frampton fan, and that Kiss thing is about as “live” as roadkill, folks), it’s sold a bajillion copies over the years, and there’s a far better chance that you’ve actually heard this album before than any of the three that preceded it.  So why don’t I really have much to say about it?

Because, after twenty-three years of uber-fandom, I’m just kind of over it.  I hate admitting it so bluntly, but it’s true.  It’s a bit of a strange thing: I have more unofficial live Cheap Trick on my external hard drive than any other band.  This is no collector fetish: I enjoy this group’s live performances probably more than any other.  This performance – or, more specifically, the ten songs culled from it for the original album – is so etched into my brain that there’s simply nothing new to hear in it for me.  I’m not suggesting it isn’t wonderful and magical and every bit the classic it’s cracked up to me.  I’m simply pointing out that twenty three years of “Oh, you like Cheap Trick?  I’ve got that album, let’s throw it on” immediately followed by the iconic “All right Tokyo…” stage announcement has left my enthusiasm for it severely blunted.  That’s life, as they say.

‘Twas not always thus, however: upon first hearing back when I was fourteen, I was floored by how the songs came to life in a way that was simply not represented adequately by their studio counterparts.  The roar of the crowd yelled excitement!  in a way that hype stickers or stage announcement hyperbole could never hope to so vehemently convey.  They even manage to make an old war horse like “Ain’t That a Shame” sound like they wrote it for Heaven Tonight – no mean feat.

The final round-up looks like this: if you’ve never actually heard Cheap Trick at Budokan before, my advice to you is run, don’t walk.  It’s as excellent and exciting as you’ve always heard.  If, like me, years of repeat play and classic rock radio have worn down its luster for you, be glad that there’s so many great sounding live shows from roughly the same era…and why not take a moment to remind yourself how great it was back when you first heard it?

The Timeline and Many Faces of Budokan

Because the Budokan material has been reissued and repackaged seven ways from Sunday, here’s a quick timeline of releases and delineation of the differences between them for the uninitiated.

Cheap Trick at Budokan (LP, cassette, 8-Track)
Epic/CBS/Sony, November 1978 (Japan); February 1979 (USA)

The ten-track original, and still the best way to hear this material for the first time.  Initially intended to be released only in Japan, but rolled out in the USA after four months of (at the time) record-shattering import sales.  Early copies, both Japanese and domestic, come with an impressive large booklet containing photos, essays in Japanese, and full lyrics.  British copies are slightly retiled (At the Budokan), skip the gatefold cover and the booklet, but are pressed in what Epic Records describes on the hype sticker as “Kamikaze Yellow” vinyl.  Tasteful!

Cheap Trick at Budokan (CD)
Epic/CBS, ca. 1987 (USA) [Catalog number EK 35795]

Original US CD pressing.  Sounds like it was dubbed from a highly Camaro-tested cassette; unless distant sound, no bass to speak of, and tape hiss are a few of your favorite things, this moldy oldie is best consigned to the dustbin of history.

Budokan II [CD]
Epic/Sony, 1994

Purported to be the “other half” of the Budokan set, which is true as far as it goes.  Also includes three tracks from the next year’s Budokan performances, assumedly to push the total running time closer to what was considered full length in 1994.  An absolutely essential release in its time, largely rendered unnecessary (unless you’re a nerd like me who needed to hold on to if for those three 1979 tracks) four years later by…

At Budokan: The Complete Concert [2CD]
Epic/Sony, 1998

Twentieth anniversary stitch-together of the original ten track album with the 1978 material from Budokan II, now sequenced in the order in which the set was actually performed way back when.  Excellent sound and good liner notes make this the second stop on your Budokan journey, once the original album’s got its hooks in you and you need to know the whole story.

Warning! Collector nerd/audiophile porn above!
 Cheap Trick at Budokan [Gold CD]
Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, mid 1990’s

Budokan makes a bit of a strange choice for an audiophile release; honestly, the tapes sound like what they are: a rough recording made very much on the fly that makes up for in excitement and ambience what it lacks in dynamic range and detail.  That said, Mobile Fidelity deserves some credit here: of all the digital iterations of the Budokan material out there, this gold CD is the closest match in overall sound to the original Japanese vinyl, and the meticulous recreation of the original vinyl booklet insert is unique to this version.  Honestly speaking, I only own this because I snagged it in the late ‘90s from a Borders clearance bin for about $10.  For what out of print Mobile Fidelity releases tend to go for on the nerd market, I’d pass on this one (or find a torrent, nudge-nudge-wink-wink) in favor of…

Cheap Trick at Budokan [Remastered CD]
Epic/Legacy/Sony, 2002 [Catalog number EK 86448]

Sounds nearly as good as the gold CD, contains most of the English-language content and some of the photos from the original booklet, and retails these days for about $6.  If you’re looking for non-vinyl physical media, this should be where you start.

Budokan! [CD/DVD boxed set]
Epic/Legacy/Sony, 2008

As awesome as it was frustrating, this 30th anniversary cash-grab from your friends at Sony has nearly as much to annoy as it does to offer.  New to the package is a brand new Jack Douglas remix of the complete April 28th, 1978 show (At Budokan was culled from two shows: April 28th and April 30th), as well as a long overdue official DVD release of one hour of the April 28th show, seen at the time on Japanese television and a bootleg favorite ever since.  So what’s wrong, you ask?  Unfortunately, Sony felt the need to bloat out both the content and price of the set by including The Complete Concert 2CD set in it as well; the hype sticker on the front refers to it as “meticulously remastered”, but it sounds the same – and, to be fair, as good – as ever to my ears.  Honestly, it’s hard to imagine anyone interested in something like this not already owning the 1998 release of The Complete Concert, rendering half the discs in this boxed extravaganza completely redundant.  Douglas’ remix of the April 28th show is mildly revelatory: rougher and more raucous than any previous version, it actually managed to make me actively enjoy this material for the first time in years.  The DVD is a hoot, although it’s too bad they couldn’t have also included the utterly bonkers Japanese commercials embedded in most of the bootleg versions.  To be fair, about a year later Sony tried to make good, releasing just the April 28th audio disc and the DVD as a combo pack for about $20, although I’d assume that the excellent booklet and poster that came with the big box probably don’t factor into that deal.  The new material is well worth it for devoted fans, but newbies may want to start with a simpler package and work their way up.

Next week: they persecute me right here on this very blog!!!

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