When Cheap Trick came roaring out of Rockford, Illinois in 1977 with their uber-cool debut, self-titled album, tired old stadium rockers could only look on with horror and dread. This ballsy, yet nervous romp of powerful pop would cause repercussions in the music world for generations to come. No-one had delivered a sound that would combine Beatles, Badfinger and The Who with such volume and intensity and with tongue situated firmly in cheek. It was more than simply a breath of fresh air for the underground, having rightly got fat on the likes of Alice Cooper and Lou Reed, Cheap Trick offered a modern take on 'rock' with a fusion of adrenalin and intelligent subject matter.
Songs such as Oh Candy, He's A Whore and The Ballad Of TV Violence are just a smatter of the wit and charm voiced by a lead singer who conveyed an image of Rod Stewart on benzedrine and steroids, Mick Ronson anyone? The thundering stomp of Peterssen and Bun E. Carlos is matched only by the frenzied, articulate loud mess of Rick Nielsen, a guitarist who realistically stands shoulder-to-shoulder with guitar legends such as Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Muddy Waters and even gains a cheeky inch on the likes of Mike Bloomfield.
Cheap Trick's appearance at the Rockford Armory in 1977 captures this hugely influential band at their primeval best, a raw, loud experiment in rock and roll underclass debauchery, a climax of anti-cliché with two fingers up to anyone who cares. 1977 was going to be their year with a string of dates supporting Kiss in July and August and slots alongside Be Bop Deluxe and Blue Oyster Cult in September, the band could be found finding new followers from Illinois to San Diego. Illinois was home and Cheap Trick had played every bowling alley and warehouse joint there since 1974, but three years had rewarded the band with an acclaimed debut and an impressive fanbase overseas in Japan upon the release of Elo Kiddies.
Their follow-up album In Color, issued seven months later cemented their reputation and credibility, both musically and artistically. A third album Heaven Tonight from 1978 again secured the critical applause of its predecessors, but it would take a tour of Japan and namely the release of Cheap Trick at Budokan in 1979 to wake the American market and bring the band the international stardom they justly deserved. 1977s Rockford Armory offers a beautiful snapshot of the band with a combined stroke of Neanderthal rage and pop sensibility. Cheap Trick were here to perform the rituals of devout protagonists of savage pop, a brutally exciting brand that would influence the likes of Steve Albini (Big Black), Sonic Youth, MX80 Sound et al.
The Illinois audience are treated to a spectacular show that marries their self-titled debut and In Color with an electrified Ain't That A Shame (Fats Domino) and Loser, a track that would remain in it's demo form only for many years. Down On The Bay is an inspired tribute to Roy Wood and The Move, a band that more than anyone else, seemed to bear a dynamic influence on the Illinois boys. Cheap Trick's stoic charm was predominantly in their appearance which at first glance, seems to stand in total contrast to their sound. No bare-chested leather posing here, it's jump suits, ill-fitting slacks, shirt and tie and a guitarist that crosses the visual divide of The Sparks' Ron Mael and British comedic actor Norman Wisdom. Thankfully, whatever the craze, style, genre or fetish, Cheap Trick shall always be Cheap Trick.