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Cheap Trick Goes Big

Guitarist Rick Nielsen teases the band’s 12-show ‘Dream Police’ engagement

Jan. 19, 2011
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Rick Nielsen doesn’t consider himself a rock star. Nonetheless, his expansive repertoire of worldwide tours, successful albums and substantial collection of guitars suggest otherwise.

This month, the Cheap Trick guitarist and songwriter brings his band to the Potawatomi Bingo Casino’s Northern Lights Theater to showcase one of the band’s most celebrated albums, 1979’s Dream Police.

The band will perform that platinum album and other hit songs at a 12-show extended engagement at the theater from Jan. 20 through Feb. 26. And for these shows, cellos and trumpets will enthrall the audience along with the guitar riffs and drum fills. A 25-piece orchestra comprised of The Bombastic Symphonic Philharmonic and The Rhythmic Noise Mind Choir will provide instrumental and vocal amplification for Cheap Trick’s concert series.

“It’s a great way to embellish songs,” said Nielsen. “I’m glad that they’re allowing us to be so adventurous. We just did 46 shows in Las Vegas with orchestra. They follow us, we’re not following the orchestra, and they were good followers and they were good songs to follow with.”

Along with the orchestra, Cheap Trick’s progeny will also lend his talents. Nielsen’s son Daxx, a percussionist, is slated to perform with the band during its upcoming concert series in Milwaukee. In the past, Nielsen has also performed with his other son, Miles, who currently tours with Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons.

“We hire them because they’re the best people for the job,” Nielsen says. “I taught them to only ask when they ran out of patience trying it for themselves. You don’t learn if someone shows you everything. They’re stubborn like me—they want to figure it out, right or wrong.”

Anyone familiar with Nielsen knows he isn’t afraid of doing it big when it comes to music. That’s why it should not be surprising that this concert series will feature orchestration, and some outlandish guitars.

“Originally, I wanted to have a six-neck guitar that spun, but then Billy Gibbons had one that spun, so I had something more practical made for me: a five-neck guitar,” said Nielsen. “The five-neck and the one that looks like me get more applause than I do. I have to keep them in the show.”

But what is the limit when it comes to necks on a guitar?

“Anything more than five is ridiculous,” according to Nielsen. “Five, of course, is very normal.”
Expect to see Nielsen wielding a different guitar onstage for every song. In his 35 years of touring, he has owned about 2,000 guitars, which he has whittled down to 250.

“It’s out of an old habit, because I used to hate to see players break a string and then have it tuned, so I
always carried a lot of guitars in case something like that happened,” said Nielsen.

Inspiration for songs and lyrics for musicians often come from listening to legends such as Nielsen himself. But when Nielsen needs a muse for songwriting, he sometimes uses a critical ear on other artists’ songs to improve upon what he thinks could be done better.

“What I hear and what I like and don’t like,” Nielsen said. “Sometimes what I don’t enjoy inspires me to write the opposite of or a better derivation of that song. When I wrote, ‘I Want You To Want Me,’ there were so many dopey songs on that I thought, ‘I can write something that dopey,’ so I wrote something that dopey. I wish I could write that stupid that often!”

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