Reviews of music shows I've been to. Maybe you've been there too…

MMR-BQ @ Susquehanna Bank Center (5/18/13)- Feat. Cheap Trick, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden

Since most of the bands I listen to were born before I was even on this planet, it is extremely rare for me to attend a show for a group that was at its peak during my formative years (even if said group has died and been resurrected). Not surprisingly, I therefore have a much more visceral, and by extension less cerebral, reaction to such bands, given that their music likely played an important (or at least recognizable) part of my development. The 90’s-flavored “MMR-BQ” in Camden was thus the perfect venue for a nostalgic release of adolescent energy, in the form of an ear-splitting, head-banging, throat-shredding rock concert.

The first half of the lineup consisted of a bunch of no-name bands who, when combined with the damp, overcast weather, convinced me and Bob to not show up until halfway through the show. We were greeted by the legendary Cheap Trick, who have taken over the Ramones’ torch of continuous touring, year after year. I had seen Cheap Trick open for Aerosmith years ago, and was impressed at their high energy and colorful playing, catalyzed (as always) by eccentric guitar virtuoso Rick Nielsen. Opening up as they always do with “Hello There” (aside: is there a better concert opening song? “Start Me Up” is probably the only competition), the aging band began by lurking through a set that started as damp as the weather. Frontman Robin Zander’s glittering David Lee Roth-style captain’s outfit did nothing to help excite the crowd. Thankfully, he eventually ceded center stage to Nielsen, whose infectious enthusiasm cannot be resisted. Slowly, the band began to hit its stride, and by the time the overplayed “I Want You to Want Me” came up, I (along with the rest of the crowd) was in full rock mode. Though the standard collection of hits made their welcome appearance, I was pleasantly surprised to hear “Need Your Love” and “Gonna Raise Hell”, both of which seem much more suited to the live format than on record. Despite not having my secret desire to hear “He’s A Whore” fulfilled, Cheap Trick’s set provided a perfect rev-up opening act for the main event (while in fact being the closing act for the concert afternoon session).

Splurging for actual seats rather than battling the lawn was a great call, as the rain started to fall during the beer break. The lights soon went down for headliner #1, “Alice in Chains”, as we found our way back to our seats. I cynically use “” because I initially viewed the band as a cheap imitation of the original version, given that new lead singer William DuVall has replaced the departed Layne Staley. Even though the other three core members remain and have now recorded new music with DuVall, I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching a cover band plow through a greatest hits-fest, especially when they opened with “Them Bones,” sadly lacking Staley’s signature growl. Moreover, the sound was way off, as Mike Inez’s base dominated the proceedings and Jerry Cantrell’s guitar suffered some major feedback issues, possibly because of the rain. But their strong, forceful playing, combined with just the right touch of nostalgia, served to overcome these problems and rapidly drain my skepticism, to the point that by the time “Would?” rolled around, I was headbanging and singing my lungs out with the rest of the Gen Y-ers. Cantrell remains the anchor of the band, and his harmony (and occasionally lead) vocals are as much a part of the band’s sound as Staley’s were. Meanwhile, DuVall was a spirited stage presence who, by sheer force of will, managed to get the entire audience on his side by the time the band finished with a kick-ass one-two combo of “Man in the Box” and “Rooster.” He may not ever completely win me over as a replacement for Staley, but DuVall definitely has the chops to at least pull off an impressive impersonation of a 90’s front man.

After a break, Soundgarden came on around 10 PM to reclaim their place as (in my opinion) the best of the 90’s grunge bands. Kim Thayil’s guitar histrionics, Ben Sheperd’s thundering bass, Chris Cornell’s impeccable vocal range, and Matt Cameron’s pounding dexterity all combined to give the band one of the most unique, creative sounds in the annals of rock and roll. And on this night, they played every one of these qualities to the hilt, performing a career-spanning set list that served as proof that sometimes it’s ok for bands to get back together (whatever the motivation).

From the opening notes of “By Crooked Steps,” Soundgarden slammed through their performance like a group at its peak, tossing off an amazingly diverse collection of hits and obscure album cuts. Before the show, Bob and I had each rattled of our list of hoped-for Soundgarden songs to be played that night. I had wistfully listed the obscure Down on the Upside cut “Ty Cobb” as one of mine (since you asked, the others were “Jesus Christ Pose”, “Blow Up the Outside World”, “Fell On Black Days” and “My Wave”). So when the band finished playing “Drawing Flies,” a similarly obscure track from Badmotorfinger, I jokingly turned to Bob and remarked “maybe they will play ‘Ty Cobb’ after all, ha ha.” Low and behold, what do they kick into but … “Ty Cobb”! I head-banged even more enthusiastically than normal for that one.

The sound problems that had plagued Alice in Chains remained, though Soundgarden seemed to be able to power through slightly better (perhaps Cornell’s high-pitched shrieks are impervious to technical limitations). The band even dragged a random fan onstage to play rhythm guitar for “Fell on Black Days,” which he performed with surprising dexterity. While the band’s new songs didn’t do much to win any converts, nobody was complaining as the band left the stage in a hail of feedback following the Ultramega OK track “Beyond the Wheel.” The fans had gotten what they wanted. Including me. I was amazed at how amped up I was after the show. Maybe it was the performances, maybe it was the crowd, maybe it was being back in New Jersey. Whatever the reason, for one night, I was 15 again. Let the 90’s live on.

Cheap Trick setlist:

  1. Hello There
  2. ELO Kiddies
  3. Way of the World
  4. California Man (The Move cover)
  5. On Top of the World
  6. Baby Loves to Rock
  7. Dream Police
  8. I Want You to Want Me
  9. Need Your Love
  10. Sick Man of Europe
  11. Surrender
  12. Auf Wiedersehen
  13. Gonna Raise Hell

Alice in Chains setlist

  1. Them Bones
  2. Dam That River
  3. Again
  4. Check My Brain
  5. Your Decision
  6. Hollow
  7. We Die Young
  8. Down in a Hole
  9. Nutshell
  10. Stone
  11. No Excuses
  12. Would?
  13. Man in the Box
  14. Rooster

Soundgarden setlist:

  1. By Crooked Steps
  2. Gun
  3. Jesus Christ Pose
  4. Outshined
  5. Non-State Actor
  6. Big Dumb Sex
  7. Drawing Flies
  8. Ty Cobb
  9. My Wave
  10. Been Away Too Long
  11. The Day I Tried to Live
  12. Rusty Cage
  13. Fell on Black Days
  14. Blow Up the Outside World
  15. Spoonman
  16. Beyond the Wheel

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