|Better than Budokan? A nerd like me would say something like that...|
Cheap Trick’s 1997 self-titled rebirth came as a revelation to fans like me, but it also came with a huge elephant-in-the-room of a question: was it a one-off or the beginning of a lasting thing? Sadly, due to a period of protracted legal limbo (their new indie label, Red Ant Records, had gone spectacularly bankrupt less than three months after the 1997 album’s release), it was a question that would remain unanswered for six years. In the meantime, the band stuck to live work, always its backbone.
Amidst all of that touring came a pair of live albums, both issued completely independently by the band themselves. Surprisingly, given that the name Cheap Trick Is somewhat synonymous with “live album” thanks to At Budokan, they hadn’t issued a non-archival live full-length since that album. On the one hand, neither of these albums told us hardcore fans about the band’s creative health; even at their lowest ebbs, Cheap Trick had never failed to deliver as a live act. On the other hand, both were more welcome additions to the band’s discography than they may seem at first blush. Hell, I’d even argue that one of them, on an artistic level, is better than Budokan. No lie.
Music for Hangovers came first, released in 1999 and culled from the band’s residency at the Metro in Chicago the previous year. When Sony Music’s Legacy reissues division announced plans to reissue the band’s first three studio albums and At Budokan remastered with bonus tracks, Cheap Trick came up with the then-novel idea of touring to promote said reissues: in selected cities, they set up shop for four nights, performing one album complete each night, plus encores. Since then, a lot of classic rock bands have toured the complete performance of a classic recording, but Cheap Trick were the first band to make such a big deal out of it and, arguably, were one of the few to still possess the chops and fire necessary to do their early material justice. For the kind of fan who was probably more excited to hear them take on “Stiff Competition” than “Surrender”, it was a dream come true. Music for Hangovers pulls sixty-five minutes of highlights from the Chicago run, drawing mostly from the first three albums but also allowing for a few later-career ringers from the encores. The sound quality is just great: very raw, but also very detailed, and also very “really live”, and the set list is completely unassailable. Over time, Hangovers has come to be far and away my most listened to official live Cheap Trick disc. Is it culturally more important than At Budokan? Not hardly. Is it a better listen? Put it this way: I’ve more than once recommended it as a starting point for Cheap Trick newbies, and it has more than once made converts of those to whom I’ve recommended it. The death of the music industry being what it is, used copies start at around a buck over at Amazon. Deal of a lifetime, folks.
Silver followed two years later, culled from a 1999 hometown performance in Rockford, Illinois, during which the band performed three distinct sets, touching on at least one song from each of their albums to date. The overall sound production is similar to that of Hangovers: a very “as it happened” sound coupled with a nice, big overall mix. Obviously, the very idea of the whole thing is a fan’s dream, and it is fantastic that they released it commercially rather than leaving it as the muddy-sounding provenance of bootleggers, but there’s almost a bit too much of it to go around. I’m sure that wasn’t the case for those who were in attendance that evening, but listening to the whole thing as a well over two-hour live album starts to feel daunting about halfway through. Do fans need it? Absolutely: it’s great stuff, both as a performance and celebration, and many of the track selections are obviously unique to this one amongst official releases. Neophytes and casual fans, however, would probably be better served by Music for Hangovers’ well-sequenced concision. [Oddly, and confusingly, Silver was reissued by Big3 Records in 2004, appending two Music for Hangovers out-takes to the end of the second disc as bonus tracks. Obviously, this is the version you want.]
Both of these albums were also released as DVDs, and for those I’d actually recommend Silver over Hangovers by just a hair. Silver’s epic sprawl feels far less overwhelming when you’re actually watching it, whereas Hangovers feels a bit short at sixty-odd minutes as a visual program. Still, both DVDs are great, and Hangovers’ absolutely riotous audio commentary by the band more than makes up for its brevity. Silver is still readily available and reasonably priced, whereas Hangovers seems to have graduated to the land of the deleted and expensive. It’s not worth north of $40, no DVD really is, but if you have the chance to grab it for a less inflated price, it’s well worth it. [A bit of fan-nerd full disclosure: Silver was the first DVD I purchased, upon acquiring a player for Christmas in 2001.]
Next week: back to the studio, back to business.