Cheap Trick and Squeeze: the Janus faces of power pop. One blasting away with a blues-metal chordal guitar attack that channels the Beatles via Led Zeppelin. The other sweeter, witty, at times a bit twee, as if Elvis Costello cared about Ray Davies’s working-class melodramas. In their heydays, 30 years ago, they were on opposite sides of the spectrum. At Bank of America Pavilion Wednesday night, both mined different aspects of ’60s Britpop, either overtly — as when Cheap Trick plunged deep into the psychedelia of “Magical Mystery Tour” — or obliquely — via the cunning wordplay and nimble melodies of the Squeeze œuvre . . .
Oh, who am I kidding? This was nostalgic fun, pure and simple. A double bill designed around a particular demographic — specifically, 48-year-old women named Clea (and several hundred of their close cohort). Who else would be able to make sense of such dated references as “WACs recruited old maids for the war” (in “Surrender”), or catch the musical joke of “the record jumps on a scratch” and its accompanying stutter-skip refrain in “If I Didn’t Love You”? In a reprise of a double-bill tour that played this same venue three years ago, the expectation was tunes that we could sing along to, and the two headliners didn’t disappoint.
They did surprise. Notably with the turn-around: Cheap Trick went deep into album tracks (“Borderline”) and some new tunes (“These Days”), whereas Squeeze focused on hits (one exception being the wonderfully organic, almost acoustic “Hope Fell Down,” from 1984’s Difford & Tilbrook). But it was Squeeze that prevailed as a jam band. That was largely due to the Pavilion acoustic, which made a muddy mess of Cheap Trick’s wall-of-sound thrust. Glenn Tilbrook’s guitar, always secondary to his choir-boy tenor, was the blues-funk weapon of the night, particularly during an extended “Slap and Tickle.” No offense to Rick Nielsen, but until the set’s second half (that wild “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Baby Loves To Rock,” in particular), the Cheap Trick superweapon functioned as a de facto alternative frontman, sauntering and tossing picks by the handful. Switching guitars every song — sometimes during songs — he seemed to be playing his heart out. But the audio?
Ah well, sound problems aside, Cheap Trick acquitted themselves well. Robin Zander sounded great, high notes still in place, though hearing that horny brat voice emerge from what looked like Jack Nicholson’s face was a bit creepy. And the substitute drummer, Rick’s son Daxx Nielsen, powered everything along nicely in Bun E. Carlos’s seat, particularly in “Need Your Love.” If, by this point in their career, this band didn’t do a tight, hard, and fast set, there would be something wrong in the universe. And by the time the inevitable, irresistible “Surrender” rolled in, someone had turned Nielsen up in the mix. Maybe he should have picked up the five-necked monster before the abbreviated “Goodnight” finale . . . and hit someone with it.