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Cheap Trick: Touring With Abandon

No gig too big, no hall too small for a truly iconic rock band (and the sound team)...

There’s an old adage still floating about that claims if you remember the ‘70s, you probably weren’t there.

I was, and while I do have to admit that there are many memories that I just didn’t make during that decade, one that endures is of seeing Cheap Trick at Sammy G’s Circus, a bar in Kenosha, WI. This was well before the seminal live album Cheap Trick at Budokan, light years prior to the announcement last December that they will soon be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The band was just starting out, these guys from Rockford, IL, and I can still see them performing on a cramped little stage one night in ’74, cutting through the bad vapors and smoky miasma that poisoned the place with potent original material as well as hardcore covers they made their own. My girlfriend threw-up and passed-out on the bar shortly after midnight. Her loss. Cheap Trick continued to rock with abandon till closing.

On another night they were playing, someone stole the cash box containing the take from the door and ran off on foot down Sheridan Road, which stretches parallel to Lake Michigan out front. “I remember that,” guitarist Rick Nielsen told me once backstage at the House of Blues Anaheim while we were reminiscing. “The owner lit out after the guy with a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol in hand. Came back with the cash box in short order too…”

And that’s sort of what happened to Cheap Trick next, they took off with the cash box, only got away and just kept running. With their popularity reaching rabid, Beatlemania proportions in Japan towards the end of the decade, success followed in the U.S. along with critical acclaim. Today they’re credited with inspiring countless others, ranging from Slash and Pearl Jam to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

After 5,000 shows, huge vocals, thundering bass, pounding drums, and acres of guitar are still the order of the day for Cheap Trick.

Going And Going
The band has toured almost continuously for over four decades, playing more than 5,000 shows. At this point, it’s probably easier to list the sound companies they haven’t worked with as those they have. Having opened for Aerosmith on the 2012 Global Warming Tour and taken to the road with Peter Frampton last year, the tireless quartet is set to go again this spring after a short break early this year.

“We were with dB Sound out of Chicago for some time,” relates Bill Kozy, who has been at front of house for 13 years with the band. “Then with Sound Image a bit,
Thunder Audio, and lately we’ve been using a company out of Detroit called Burst. Our credo is ‘no gig too big and no hall too small,’ and that’s how a list of our annual dates breaks down.

“Over the years,” he continues, “PAs have gotten more consistent, so we don’t run into problems in these diverse environments like we used to. The varied nature of these gigs still presents its fair share of challenges, however.”

“There isn’t much I don’t like, as long as it’s well maintained,” FOH engineer Bill Kozy says of gear options these days. Avid Profile is his current console choice.

Back when he started with the band, Kozy was on a Midas XL4 console. When they weren’t carrying a full front-of-house package, whoever supplied audio on any given night provided the basic gates, comps, and other electronic staples.

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Over the course of the past couple years, he’s been using an Avid VENUE Profile as it’s a board that’s always available and can be easily found virtually anywhere. Additionally backed by a deal with Waves, he notes this combo makes it easier to be consistent than when he was analog and is more relevant within the world we live in today.

While there may be a digital board at front of house, Cheap Trick hasn’t changed its basic stage formula one bit over the years. It’s still a loud, ripping rock band with a real backline. Wedges and guitar cabinets stacked about are the norm, and that’s not going to change.

Known for an extensive collection of vintage, custom, and downright unusual guitars and basses, the band utilizes a considerable number of wireless packs that facilitate the regular switching of instruments.

On the road, guitar tech Larry Melero keeps a close eye on a pair of vaults containing Rick Nielsen’s guitars, which include an infamous five-neck Hamer (foreground), and “Uncle Dick”, the custom, double-neck Hamer at right built in 1983 as a caricature of Nielsen himself.

The need for tech-talent is correspondingly high, with stage manager Mark Messner also pulling double-duty as frontman Robin Zander’s guitar tech and bassist Tom Petersson’s bass tech. Larry Melero serves as Rick Nielsen’s guitar tech, while Todd Trent is the drum tech orchestrating events for drummer Daxx Nielsen, Rick’s son.