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Rock Hall Three for All: Who should headline?

It’s pretty clear from the press release which band will be headlining the triple bill of recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees slated for Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on July 27. Heart (class of 2013) comes first, its name in a bigger, bolder font. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (class of 2015) follow. Cheap Trick (class of 2016) brings up the rear.

I don’t know about you folks, but I’m really sick and tired of Cheap Trick bringing up the rear. This band has been an underdog for the entirety of its career, with the exception of the, in retrospect, anomalous smash success of 1978’s “At Budokan” album. Despite being America’s greatest power-pop band – with apologies to Big Star, who didn’t last long enough, and the Raspberries, who weren’t consistent enough - Cheap Trick has been treated like an also-ran for more than a quarter century. This year’s rock hall induction notwithstanding, Cheap Trick just never seems to get its due, even as it continues to release inspired new albums (2009’s “The Latest” being the latest in a long line of killer collections) and offer blazing live shows to its devout fan corps.

To love Cheap Trick is to suffer injustices time and again, as the group is either added as an opening act on arena tours – with Aerosmith, Boston, Peter Frampton and Def Leppard, for example – or relegated to the casino circuit, where it is left with little choice but to “play the hits” for people who don’t know their “Dream Police” from their “Dream On.” Who can forget that June evening in 2009, when Cheap Trick was slated to open for Def Leppard at Darien Lake, and we only found out the band had canceled after we had already entered the amphitheater? No refunds were offered, but plenty of us would have taken one and gotten the heck out of there if they had been. Instead, we had to endure “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” when what we really wanted was side 2 of “Cheap Trick In Color.” Yuck.

I’m not a big fan of package tours, but when all three of these bands have played routine free or low-dough shows in the market over the past decade, the package deal is quite likely the only way to get people into paid seats. Which is not to suggest that Heart and Jett & the Blackhearts don’t put on stellar shows – they do. In Ann Wilson, Heart has one of the most virtuosic and soulful rock singers going. And Jett & the Blackhearts offered a strong set at Artpark in 2013, and before that, as part of the Warped Tour at Darien Lake in 2006. Of the three, however, Cheap Trick remains the most vital, the least like an “oldies” act.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that headlining status should be decided on a nightly basis by coin toss. Who is with me?

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