by John Johnson, Images by Chaz Dykes of Chaz D Photography
\After almost a decade, from concept to completion, the Coachman Park amphitheater in downtown Clearwater opened to glorious fanfare. And what better way to celebrate the grand opening of a music venue dubbed The Sound, than to have Rock and Roll Hall of famers Cheap Trick fill it with their beloved tunes. The state-of-the-art grandstand, its design reminiscent of a stingray, was so visually appealing that they could have easily christened it The Sight AND Sound.
The sweltering evening started with an opening set by Robin Taylor Zander, backed by a five piece called Boys Go To Jupiter. Son of Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander, Robin Taylor blazed through a set of mostly originals off his recently released debut album, The Distance. The young virtuoso only strayed once for an awe-inspiring rendition of The Beatle’s “Dear Prudence”. Unquestionably proud mother Pam Zander could be seen singing every word from about the tenth row, never sitting down once. Robin Taylor and company would wrap up their set with a bow at center stage, he in white and the other members in black suits and skinny ties.
RTZ as he is known amongst friends and fans would not be off stage for long, as he is also the rhythm guitarist and background vocalist for his paternal namesake’s band, Cheap Trick, who were next up for this historic evening. The band from Rockford Illinois, closing in on their 50th year in the biz, attacked the stage like they have every gig since 1974. Consisting of original members, guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson, and of course singer Robin Zander who isn’t the first singer they hired but by far the one that matters most. He’s often referred to as the “man of a thousand voices” and considered one of the top pop/rock vocalists of his generation. Daxx Neilsen, son of the overtly charismatic lead guitarist, took to the drums as he has for nearly twenty years, and Robin Taylor settled in on rhythm guitar at stage-left. Both he and proud papa at center stage donning Robin Taylor Zander apparel.
The steamy evening air, randomly broken by a greatly appreciated gulf breeze, was no match for the 17 song set by the 2016 Hall of Fame inductees. Opening with “Hello There”, and finishing off with “Goodnight”, the five Tricksters filled the gap in between with songs the packed house had heard a thousand times. Mixing in not so familiar songs like the new “Borderline” & “Light Up The Fire” and the deep cut “He’s a Whore”, which the senior Neilsen says his wife wrote about him, as well as “Downed” from In Color, in which Robin “Jr” would grab lead mic. Miscellaneous gems such as “California Man”, “Aint that a Shame”, “The Flame” and “Need Your Love” were welcomed with muted enthusiasm by the somewhat overheated congregation. However, when the raucous, yet equally torrid group of masterful musicians tore into their rock anthems “I Want You to Want me”, “Dream Police” and “Surrender”, the entire crowd were brought to their feet to sing along. Bringing to stage a few more offspring, budding starlet Robin Sailor Zander, Lilah Petersson and Liam Petersson, to help with the timeless chorus chant of the latter hit single.
After years of planning and months of construction, the downtown Clearwater and Ruth Eckerd Hall’s new crown jewel, The Sound, is open for business. And regardless of the evening’s tropical dankness, Cheap Trick once again proved that we were “All Alright!”