I came for Sgt. Pepper, but stayed for Cheap Trick.
The band who gave us one of rock’s greatest live albums (Live at Budokan) rendered a completely yeoman’s effort at reproducing the Beatles’ game-changing 1967 album at Le Theatre des Arts at Paris Las Vegas, ably assisted by a small orchestra perched atop one end of a tall set and a men’s chorus on the other end. Yet, Cheap Trick did so much more, borrowing not only from other Beatles’ albums, but from their own, as well. The only way to describe the evening is the “best of both worlds.”
To set the scene, the band began with a performance of “I Am the Walrus” from the band’s Magical Mystery Tour album, nearly letter perfect in reproducing the Beatles’ sound. Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander and Tom Petersson then barreled through the 1967 classic, with Rick’s son, Daxx, on drums (longtime drummer Bun E. Carlos is sadly absent). There’s an almost obsessive quality in how loyal the band is to the source material; they even enlisted the help of producer Geoff Emerick, who worked with the Beatles on Pepper. I’ve been a big fan of Emerick for eons; Imperial Bedroom is one of my favorite albums, as much for his involvement as Elvis Costello’s. So when Nielsen introduced him and I suddenly realized he was sitting only four feet away from me in his production booth, I have to admit I got more than a little starstruck.
Several other things struck me during the Pepper performance:
1. ) Zander has lost almost none of his vocal ability. “She’s Leaving Home” is not an easy song to sing, yet he pulls it off effortlessly;
2.) Nielsen is still one of the coolest men on the planet, flicking guitar picks into the audience by the dozens and (deliberately?) flubbing his lines while hawking his band’s DVD of the performance.
3.) This might have been a Strip show, but it really had the ambiance of a concert.
Once the Pepper performance came to a close, things really heated up. Anyone still in their seat didn’t stay there long, as the band launched into some of their own greatest hits, including “I Want You To Want Me,” “Dream Police” and “Surrender.” I had completely destroyed my voice screaming for a U.S. victory in the World Cup at the Crown & Anchor earlier in the day, yet I simply could not stop myself from more vocal chord destruction. These songs made me feel 17 again. For about 20 minutes, Le Theatre des Arts became a well-behaved mosh pit, as young and old alike pumped fists, shook hips and generally screamed for more. For that 20 minutes, there was nowhere else in the universe I would rather have been.
That would have been the perfect end to an exhilarating evening, but Cheap Trick wasn’t done. The band performed a couple of new songs, ending with a few tracks off the Beatles’ Abbey Road (“Golden Slumbers,” “The Weight” and “The End”) before bringing things to a close with “All You Need Is Love,” dropping pink paper hearts from the rafters in the process.
I attended this performance with a former colleague who will be leaving Las Vegas at the end of this week for Minnesota. She cried several times during the performance; part of me thinks it’s because she’ll miss this kind of thing, but another part of me thinks it’s just because it was a damn great show. Got to give it up when appropriate, you know?
Sgt. Pepper Live, featuring Cheap Trick. 8 p.m., June 18-19, 22-23, 25-26 and 29-30. $75-$250. (888) 727-4758 or parislasvegas.com.