Wisconsin Dells’ contribution to rock ‘n’ roll history was on full display this past weekend at Monk’s Bar and Grill in Lake Delton, with the primary artifact — Cheap Trick singer and front man Robin Zander — paying sometimes emotional tribute to his family, his music and his Dells musical roots.
His induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame less than three months away, Zander gave two heart-felt performances Friday and Saturday nights in the intimate, friendly confines of Monk’s basement performance space, presenting a selection of Cheap Trick favorites and rarities, songs from his solo career and a strong selection of tunes by his greatest influences.
As promised, Zander brought his old friend and musical running mate — and Dells musical mainstay — Brian Beebe up on stage both nights to help him deliver those cover tunes, many of which the pair performed as the musical duo Zander and Kent more than three decades ago in long-shuttered nightspots around the Dells.
Zander’s love for — and pride in — his children also was on display, with his son and multi-instrumentalist Robin Taylor Zander performing next to him on guitar, piano and (almost identical tenor) vocals throughout, and his daughter Holland Zander joining the pair Saturday night for a somewhat tongue-in-cheek yet stirring rendition of Cheap Trick’s 1978 hit “Surrender.”
The performance of that tune, which came at the end of the first set, marked the “first time my kids have performed together on stage,” the singer remarked as his oldest daughter hugged her younger brother and took the microphone.
The rock star instantly became the proud papa as he stood back and watched, smiling, for much of the song, which Cheap Trick in performance used to dedicate “to people with weird parents.” The tune, and its well-known chorus of “Mommie’s alright, Daddy’s all right, they just seem a little weird,” also brought knowing cheers — and even laughter — from the audience, most of them middle aged like the singer himself.
The two-night stand was tailor-made for hard-core fans of Zander, his band and his multi-summer Dells residency with Beebe (aka Kent). They got to hear more than a dozen rarely performed Cheap Trick tunes, among them “Smile” (about Zander’s children, he said), “Walk Away” and “Ghost Town” (sung by Robin Taylor).
The fans came from as far away as New Jersey and Colorado and dozens reportedly attended both night’s shows, such was their dedication to seeing the blond-locked front man, who in early April will be inducted, along with his Cheap Trick band mates, into the Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
The concerts were billed as “An Intimate Evening with Robin Zander,” and intimate was exactly what the fans got, both during the two hour-plus performances — which could only have been more intimate had they taken place in the singer’s living room — and afterwards when Zander came out into the dining area to shake hands, sign autographs and pose for “selfies” with everyone who came up to him.
Both shows began with the “deep tracks” as well as a handful of Zander solo tunes, with singer and his son performing mostly “unplugged”-style on acoustic guitars and piano.
Eventually the rarities gave way to more familiar fare, including a one-man performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by the younger Zander — a brilliant instrumentalist — on blistering electric guitar.
From there, such tried-and-true Cheap Trick mainstays as “I Can’t Take It” and “I Want You to Want Me” — along with a host of Zander and Kent favorites — flowed freely from the stage.
Beebe kicked off each evening’s performance by introducing his dear old, famous buddy, and then joined Zander on stage each night, taking to either the grand piano or synthesizer and providing background vocals as well, about halfway through.
Highlights of the Zander and Kent redux included a Beatles-esque version of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” the Eagles’ “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” and the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers,”
The old favorites were interspersed with Zander’s fond recollections of his days performing with Beebe in the Dells, cutting his musical teeth, living by his wits and “getting thrown out of people’s houses for no reason.”
Lest anyone forget they were in the presence of rock ‘n’ roll royalty — especially now, with the upcoming Hall of Fame induction — Zander concluded the proceedings Saturday night with a stirring, full-throated rendition of the 1988 song that propelled Cheap Trick to No. 1 for the one and only time.
That song was “The Flame,” and the aging rocker gave it all he had, bringing the equally aging, appreciative audience to its feet.
At the end of the song, even Beebe was clapping. Then the rock star took a bow with his buddy and his boy.