Cheap Trick
Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience

September 1, 2017
Toyota Amphitheatre
Wheatland, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ron Lyon

There’s nothing quite like catching three bands at a beautiful venue in the middle of nowhere. Which isn’t to say Wheatland is nowhere, but when you consider that the Toyota Amphitheatre sits in unincorporated Yuba County, surrounded by farmland about 40 miles north of Sacramento, it sure seems like nowhere. Once you get inside the open-air theater that holds up 18,500, it’s definitely somewhere you want to be.

Foreigner, Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience packed them in for a thrilling four-show show filled with hits from the 70s. Just a few minutes before 7:00, drummer Jason Bonham, joined by singer James Dylan, guitarist Tony Catania and bassist Michael Devin, kicked into a 55-minute set of Led Zeppelin songs that had everyone on their feet and in hard rock ecstasy. For all the Led Zeppelin tributes, this one may be the best and most authentic. After all, Bonham sat on the throne, in place of his father John, for the last two Led Zeppelin reunions. The music is in his blood.

From the opening salvo of “Rock and Roll,” through the peaks and valleys of “Over The Hills And Far Away,” to the raw locomotive churn of “When The Levee Breaks, landing on the one-two punch “Immigrant Song” and ‘Whole Lotta Love” — Bonham and company brought out the best of Zeppelin to an adoring audience. The drummer acknowledged Sacramento as a “huge motocross town,” and did his best to take the holeshot and scramble to a grand finale. For Cheap Trick, this would be a hard act to follow.

But that’s what Cheap Trick does. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers typically open or support bigger bands on the arena circuit, and they probably do it better than anyone. After a few sound bytes and clips from Fast Times At Ridgemont High, the Illinois-based foursome hit the ground running at 8:00 for a highly charged 14-song, hour-long showcase of favorites and deep cuts.

If you see Cheap Trick live with any regularity, you can expect to hear “California Man” “The Flame,” “I Want You To Want Me,” “Dream Police” and “Surrender” — all of which were played in Wheatland with exuberance and honest-to-goodness love. What really sets Cheap Trick apart from so many of their contemporaries is when they make an unexpected left turn.

Never one to shy away from new music — which over their last four albums has been consistently first-rate — the band pulled out “Long Time Coming” and “You Got It Going On” From their 2017 release We’re All Alright, as well as “When I Wake Up Tomorrow” from 2016’s Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello. These days, a move like this is almost unprecedented. Then, just when you thought the pop flavorings were going to burst your waistline, Tom Petersson tore into a guttural bass solo before taking the lead vocals on Velvet Underground’s “I'm Waiting For The Man,” with a snippet of “Heroin” thrown in for good measure. Watch out kiddies!

In a sign of camaraderie, guitarist Rick Nielsen dedicated “If You Want My Love” to Jason Bonham. Along the way, he pulled out any number of guitars from his arsenal and flicked picks to various audience members angling for a keepsake. His son, Dax, who’s been in the drum chair since 2010, held his own, while singer Robin Zander was stellar as always. Ending at just a tad after 9:00, Cheap Trick raised the bar even higher for headliner Foreigner.

Celebrating their 40th anniversary, Foreigner wasted little time when they launched their set with “Double Vision.” Despite having founder and guitarist Mick Jones as the sole original member, most of the present lineup has been on-board for over 10 years. The unbreakable chemistry between the seven musicians was evident from start to finish over the course of 12 songs.

Frontman Kelly Hansen took firm control as he ran from one end of the stage to the other, acknowledged the triple-digit temperature and bouncing beach balls, mentioned he was a native Californian, and gave shout-outs to both Cheap Trick (they co-headlined with Foreigner on their first tour in 1978) and Jason Bonham, who played drums with the band for four years. After his colorful introduction of each band member, Hansen graciously singled out Jones and original singer Lou Gramm as the architects and creators of Foreigner.

It’s fair to say that Foreigner covered the bulk of the 16 songs they’ve put on the charts, including “Head Games,” “Cold As Ice,” “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” “Dirty White Boy,” “Feels Like The First Time” and “Juke Box Hero,” which began with Hansen on a raised platform next to the soundboard. At one point, the singer offered up three songs — “Headknocker,” “That Was Yesterday” and “Blue Morning, Blue Day” — for the crowd to choose, and once the latter won with the mightiest ovation, the band seamlessly slipped right into it without hesitation.

Jones, who switched back and forth from guitar and keyboards, took the lead vocal for “Starrider” from the band’s 1977 self-titled debut album. Thom Gimbell, a member since the early 90s, put down his guitar and took up the saxophone for a blistering run-through of “Urgent.” The energy and fervor each player put into the songs made everyone feel like it was “the first time” these guys have gotten together, even though they’ve been touring relentlessly for the past decade. That’s a true sign of professionalism.

They saved their biggest hit of all, “I Want To Know What Love Is,” for the encore and, as is their usual practice, they invited local kids — in this instance, the Lincoln High School choir — up to the stage to help out with the song’s epic chorus. Just when everyone was preparing to exit, they fired back one last time with “Hot Blooded,” which ended in a deluge of pyrotechnics and mayhem, fitting for a grand finale. There’s little doubt Foreigner, Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin delivered on the promise of rock and roll and fireworks to the sleepy enclave of Wheatland. Even the sheep and cornfields wouldn’t rest easy on this night.

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