No, really. Only for part of one song, but still…it was fun as hell, though I may have ruined their recording.
See, back in the day there was what we used to commonly refer to in Seattle’s incestuous little music scene as a F*** Band…made up of friends from other bands who would play usually a one-off show for…some reason or other…this one was called Sick Man of Europe. The phrase was supposedly first used by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia to describe the Ottoman Empire, later to describe whichever European economy was doing most poorly, but even later used as a band name by Rick Neilsen and Tom Petersson in their early days, before they adopted the name we all know them by. They also used it as the title of a song on their 16th album in 2008.
There have been many Cheap Trick tribute acts over the years, but the Seattle Sick Man of Europe’s entire set would consist of Cheap Trick’s debut album, which most hard-core fans know is the best one.
They were (and still are) all excellent players, and huge Cheap Trick fans all: Kurt Bloch, of The Fastbacks and The Young Fresh Fellows, handling the Rick Neilsen duties. Rusty Willoughby, of Pure Joy, Flop, and late of Llama plays guitar writes songs and sings in all of those, but he’s also a very very good drummer and played the Bun E. Carlos parts effortlessly. Jonathan Poneman, best known as half the duo that started Sub Pop Records was a bass player before becoming a label honcho and did the Tom Petersson parts, and the lead vocalist was Scott Sutherland, frontman with Chemistry Set, a band I’d spent some time in. He’d introduce himself as Robin Zanderpool (!), and their few shows were devastatingly great. At one gig, Duff McKagen tried to recruit Sutherland to come down to L.A. and audition for the new post Guns-N-Roses band that would become Velvet Revolver…Sutherland turned him down: “I’d be dead in a month”.
Somehow the real Cheap Trick found out about it. They hadn’t had a major hit in some years, and were very pleased to find they’d had a profound influence on young bands who’d grown up listening to them. They released a 7-inch single on Sub Pop, and would play shows with bands like Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Guided By Voices. They were also quite excited about Sick Man of Europe’s idea of doing their first album in it’s entirety, so much so they booked three nights in October of 1998 at Seattle’s Crocodile Cafe, then ground-zero for the local rock scene by now taking over the world. They would do their first three albums, one each night: Cheap Trick, In Color…And Black and White, and Heaven Tonight. They had local bands open all three nights, naturally Kurt Bloch’s The Young Fresh Fellows the first, The Supersuckers the second, and…quietly…Pearl Jam the third.
On the third record is a song called On The Radio, which features some 60’s style fast-talkin’ Disc Jockey chatter, and the band wanted to recreate this part live as well. They asked their local record company rep “Who’s a Seattle radio DJ that’s a big Cheap Trick fan?” I got the call.
When I showed up at the Croc, I’d transcribed the DJ chatter from the record (you couldn’t quite find the lyrics to any song ever written on the interwebs yet), but when I met Robin Zander in the small “green room” to the left of the stage, I asked him if he wanted me to do it verbatim as it was on Heaven Tonight, or….what? He said, “Dude…have fun with it, do whatever you want!”. So when I got the nod to come up, I started in on something similar to the schpiel: “11:55…five minutes to midnight…It’s me…Scotty Vanderpool…ready to roll…hot wax….anything you wanna hear…45 degrees in the Jet City..” but then I stopped and turned around. I’m a drummer, and for god’s sake there was Bun E. Carlos, right behind me, so I said something to the effect of “Holy S***! I’m on stage with Cheap Trick! How f***ing cool is this?!”, and maybe something about how Cheap Trick were America’s “House Band” (stole that line from Alice Cooper) and how you’d never see Bun playing along with a drum machine like ZZ Top. The crowd went ape-shit, Robin Zander and Rick Neilsen were laughing too, but…they’d rented a mobile recording studio set up in a truck parked outside,and I never heard anything about it again.I think maybe I ruined it. This DJ from back east did it more faithfully:
Apparently they did a six-week tour of three nights each, same three albums, but they’d also started a trend. It wasn’t long after that lots of bands were doing their iconic albums front-to-back: Rush did Moving Pictures, Steely Dan came through with Aja and The Royal Scam in two nights at The Paramount, Judas Priest did British Steel, Aerosmith picked Toys in The Attic, Metallica did their Black Album …in reverse order. Of course not everyone likes the concept, Dave Grohl hates the idea, famously calling it “presumptuous” and “lazy”….but Dave Grohl wasn’t there…and The Foo Fighters probably don’t have an album worthy of performing all of. The leader of his old band Nirvana was an admitted Cheap Trick fan, as are Soundgarden, The Melvins, and a laundry list of bands, many of whom are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…and Cheap Trick aren’t? WTF? Hello? Cleveland?
They’re one of the hardest working bands in rock history, still playing live to this day (they lost track of how many shows sometime after 5000), and are playing at Marymoor Park in Redmond on Friday August 28th.