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San Diego Spotlight: POP MUSIC / THOMAS K. ARNOLD

Cheap Trick Gets More Than Just a Cheap Thrill

March 01, 1989|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

Much to their delight, the members of Cheap Trick have found that lightning can, indeed, strike twice.

Nearly a decade after their initial flash-in-the-pan success, the veteran Midwestern rockers have finally realized their long-harbored hopes for a comeback. Their latest album, "Lap of Luxury," is their highest-charting LP since 1979's "Dream Police." Their recent single, "The Flame," is their first No. 1 hit, ever.

And, on their current U.S. tour, Cheap Trick is once again playing multi-thousand-seat venues--like the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park, where they will appear Saturday night--instead of the tiny nightclubs and military bases to which they've been relegated for the better part of the 1980s.

"Having hits again has added 10 years to our career; it's added some quality time as opposed to quantity time," said guitarist Rick Nielsen in a telephone interview. "We appreciated our success the first time, but this time, we appreciate it even more.

"Suffering all those setbacks and then being given a second chance--we're thrilled."

From 1979 to 1981, Cheap Trick enjoyed a brief reign as the hottest pop act in the country. They consistently topped the charts and broke box-office records with their buoyant, catchy music and a campy stage show that pitted Nielsen's clownish mugging and maniacal guitar gymnastics against lead singer Robin Zander's good looks and sensual gyrations.

As is so often the case, however, Cheap Trick's days in the spotlight were numbered. But, even after the hits stopped coming, Nielsen said, "We continued to tour, we continued to try to make good records, and we didn't give up."

In the end, Cheap Trick's perseverance paid off. When it came time to record "Lap of Luxury," Nielsen said, "we wanted to make the best record we could, as always, but we were also more determined than ever to have a hit, to get back on radio.

"So, instead of putting whatever we came up with on the album, as we did in the past, we worked with outside writers and among ourselves to come up with 50 songs, and then we got together with our management and our record company and picked the 10 we felt stood the best chance of becoming commercial hits."

The ploy worked and, sure enough, put Cheap Trick back on top--to the point that the band's average box-office take is "from double to 10 times what it was a year ago," Nielsen said.

"Still, we're not exactly loaded," he added. "We've been in debt for so many years, it will take us two comebacks just to break even."

Last November, Paul Abramson obtained zoning approval from San Diego's planning department to open a teen-age nightclub in the Adams Avenue Theater, pending his purchase of the building at a foreclosure auction scheduled for mid-March.

According to the 27-year-old La Jolla entrepreneur, the club, named Van Richter, was to open sometime in May and offer the 17 to 25 "young adult" crowd a mix of recorded dance music and occasional concerts by underground bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Ministry and Front 242, most of them hipper-than-thou exports from Europe.

But now the fate of the club is up in the air. Two weeks ago, Abramson received a letter from associate planner Kevin McGee, informing him that Van Richter's maximum legal area had been reduced from 8,000 square feet--the entire building--to just 5,000 square feet.

No can do, Abramson said.

"What they're basically asking me to do is turn what has always been a single-use building into a multi-use building, and that simply won't work," Abramson said. "I would have to hire a structural engineer to build a 25-foot retaining wall in there, and it would not only be impractical, but the cost would be astronomical."

Planner McGee said his decision to "take a second look" at Abramson's permit was prompted by a request by the Normal Heights Community Development Corp. The CDC has long opposed the idea of a teen-age nightclub in Normal Heights, even going so far as to try to purchase the building itself last year before the foreclosure (their offer was rejected).

"Under zoning restrictions in that area, the size of theaters, nightclubs and bars is limited to 5,000 square feet," McGee said, except in cases where the new business is similar to the business it is replacing. Originally, he added, "based on information Mr. Abramson had provided us with," it was determined that the club and the previous occupant, Lawrence Gray Ministries, were, indeed, similar, because one put on gospel concerts and the other techno-pop dances.

"But, at the community planning group's request," McGee said, "we took it to the city attorney, and he didn't agree."

Adamson said he would appeal the planning department's ruling.

LINER NOTES: Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper's new album, "Root Hog or Die," should be in local record stores any day now. The dynamic duo of depravity's fourth Enigma Records release includes such irreverent ditties as "Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Chile' " and "Louisiana Liplock," as well as an upbeat rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," in which Nixon has added an uproarious mid-song rap. . . . The 13th annual concert series at San Diego State University's Open Air Theater gets under way March 25 with an appearance by British techno-pop heavyweights Duran Duran. Tickets go on sale Friday at 3 p.m.

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