You can’t swing a cat these days without hitting a rock band on tour that owned the charts—or at least had a few hits—two or more decades ago. For instance, last Sunday the Bowl hosted co-headliners Pat Benatar and Cheap Trick. With the Santa Barbara stop being just the third of their summer tour, the two acts showed what’s right (and what’s wrong) with the nostalgia-conjuring booking trend.
First up was vocal powerhouse Pat Benatar. With her longtime musical collaborator (and husband) Neil Giraldo lighting things up on lead guitar and a solid rhythm section, Benatar and company left no doubts as to why they were a multiple Grammy winning group in the 1980s.
Togged in all black, the pixie-statured Benatar is still a singing force to be reckoned with, as she proved throughout the set. Though the mezzo-soprano occassionaly opted for the lower chord where the original called for upper registers, Benatar’s vocal aptitude has not diminished with the years. (“Hell is for Children” was a particularly stirring aural experience.)
While tight musically, Benetar and Giraldo were loose with their banter. “We want you to feel like you are in our living room,” Giraldo said, regaling the crowd with stories from their 35 years of working together. “It’s our 31st wedding anniversary,” Benetar confessed early into the evening. “I don’t know how he does it,” she laughed before introducing the first song they wrote about their relationship, “Promises in the Dark.”
Benatar and Giraldo’s stage time was filled with one hit after another, including “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “We Belong,” and “Love is a Battlefield,” for which they received a standing ovation. At the end of their hour-long set, Benatar thanked the audience for “inviting us to the party” and reminded folks “to be good to one another” before finishing with a rousing “Heartbreaker”/“Ring of Fire” mash up that set the bar high for following act.
Unlike the no-gimmick Benatar and Giraldo, Cheap Trick was dripping with their trademark flare. Black-and-white checkered amps were the backdrop; lead singer Robin Zander sparkled in a bedazzled Sg. Pepper-ish jacket; guitarist Rick Nielsen had on his Bowery Boys influenced cap; and drummer Dax Nielsen wore a clothing homage to AC/DC’s Angus Young.
Though the guys came onto the stage with optic fanfare, musically they were a mess. Plagued by dreadful sound mixing (and an uneven set list) for nearly three-quarters of their show, Cheap Trick proceeded to deflate the enthusiasm of the audience, which resulted in many folks leaving before the end of the show. Which was too bad, because it wasn’t until the latter bit of the evening that the technical problems were resolved and the song pacing improved. Songs like the power-chord ballad “The Flame,” the snarky, Sex Pistol’s-esque “Surrender,” and the solid rock “Dream Police” brought the group back to their glory days, reminding why they were a popular hard rock/power pop band in the first place.
Despite Cheap Trick’s saving turnaround, Benatar and Giraldo owned the night.
Pat Benatar Setlist
All Fired Up
Promises in the Dark
Hell is for Children
You Better Run
Hit Me with Your Best Shot
Love is a Battlefield
Let’s Stay Together
Heartbreaker (into Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”)
Cheap Trick Setlist
Ain’t That a Shame (Fats Domino cover)
Never Had a Lot to Lose
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace
Need Your Love
I Know What I Want
I Want You to Want Me
Baby Loves to Rock
California Man (The Move cover)