For decades Cheap Trick were the most Beatles-influenced group not named Badfinger. According to singer Robin Zander, even before his group began doing a Beatzles tribute: “I knew the material inside and out since I was such a big fan of The Beatles.”
So it made sense that in 2007, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the original album, Cheap Trick began performing a full-length cover concert of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. According to Zander, he originally thought performing Sgt. Pepper was a bad idea, but the chance to perform at the Hollywood Bowl for the first time overrode his doubts.
The short album was extended by guest stars such as Joan Osbourne singing other Beatles classics, and the Dec. 12, 2007 show was released as an audio CD and DVD. The show in that incarnation played a series of concerts at Las Vegas Hilton. And, like former Hilton headliner Barry Manilow, Cheap Trick has taken the act to Paris.
Zander shows a bit of Pepper fatigue in his assessment of the disc: “It isn’t really my favorite Beatles record. It wasn’t pop enough for me. The best songs weren’t there. I was a big fan of Revolver and Rubber Soul. The whole marine band motif was kind of silly to me in a way.” Then, realizing the blasphemy, he quickly adds: “I’ve grown to appreciate the album a lot more. I’ve realized there is more than is on the surface.”
But leading a band with its own clutch of hits into the colossus of The Beatles must be exhausting and perhaps a little too humbling to the rock star ego. Zander describes the nightly challenge: “We are still Cheap Trick. We are not a cover band. Sometimes I feel myself falling into Beatles cover mode, because I have heard the music my entire life. To retain myself sometimes can be a battle.”
Cheap Trick has their own fans, tours and songs, and even to be the world’s best-known Beatles cover band is a shallow replacement for the original rock star experience. Cheap Trick modestly titled their latest album The Latest (2009), but new material means Zander is itching to perform his own tunes, and that is what he wants to do these days. “When you are playing your own music it fulfills you in a way that doing other people’s music doesn’t really. To me, it does anyway.”
The Latest remains as Beatles-influenced as ever for Cheap Trick. Zander does not think performing Sgt. Pepper for a couple years added any particular quality to the new Cheap Trick record, which is not to say there was not influence. If there was an effect on The Latest, the psychedelic side of The Beatles’ music is more detectable where Cheap Trick usually stuck to the pop sound of their inspiration.
Zander describes the Vegas runs of Sgt. Pepper candidly as “a chore.” “It is more of a planned-out show. They asked us to do this and since we already had done it we felt comfortable.” For the return shows, Zander says not only are the guest stars gone, he is re-energized by the pared down approach. “This is more Cheap Trick. This time it is Cheap Trick seriously doing the whole album. We have cut away the fluff. It is a fun show, but it is honed in on two entities: Cheap Trick and Sgt. Pepper.”
Still, Zander seems ready to leave Sgt. Pepper behind and let Cheap Trick return to being the only entity on his stage. And, so unlike other acts who cannot wait to try to get a permanent Vegas residency, Cheap Trick’s take on Sgt. Pepper is definitely temporary beauty at Paris.