House of Blues, May 28, 1998
It was the album that almost never was. Cheap Trick's "Live at Budokan" wasn't supposed to be released in the United States. The moderately successful pop- rockers from Rockford, Ill., intended the album, which documented their bracing April 1978 concert date in Tokyo, to be a mash note for their Japanese fans.
Americans snapped up imported copies of "At Budokan." By 1979 the album was released domestically, yielding the group's first top-10 smash, "I Want You to Want Me," and garnering worldwide sales of nearly four million copies. It became a certifiable classic, revered by everyone from the Smashing Pumpkins to L.A. popsters the Tories.
Singer Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen, bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Bun E. Carlos were as surprised as anyone else by the album's success. "We didn't have a clue that any of that would happen," Nielsen says. "We were just happy to be doing it. We had hit records over there. Plus, they dug us. Not a bad deal for four guys from Illinois."
The album became part of the soundtrack for rock & roll daydreamers stuck behind school desks in the late '70s. The group combined pop instincts bred on the Beatles and the Beach Boys with R&B rhythms, a do-it-yourself approach to music and a willingness to joke at their own expense. Spin "Surrender," "Need Your Love" and their remake of Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame," and the years begin to roll back.
"A lot of people have great memories of it," Nielsen says. "It's a point in time that you can easily remember. It's obviously not as significant as the first man on the moon or John F. Kennedy getting killed. But we end up talking about it a lot more than we ever thought we would."
Cheap Trick's fans are revisiting the group's early years with the help of a remastered, two-CD version of "At Budokan." The band is selling-out shows and is set to hook up with producer Steve Albini for their next disc. Nielsen, who appears in director Michael Moore's recently released documentary, "The Big One," is sacrosanct when asked why the band's appeal endures. "You tell me," Nielsen says. "I've never seen us. The fact is that people are showing up and we're playing well, so who cares?"