Short Cuts

Those dichotomies would eventually ground the band, as Nielsen succumbed to the worst sexist stereotypes of heavy metal that he once parodied ("She's Tight"). The music eventually devolved into art-pop cliche (1979's ambitious failure Dream Police) and sticky power-ballad goop ("The Flame"). Cheap Trick is still around, believe it or not, slogging through big clubs and small arenas, bolstered by hosannas in the underground press, name checks and covers from hipsters such as Steve Albini and Guided by Voices, and a small but feverishly loyal following that apparently can't hear too many versions of "I Want You to Want Me." But the show documented on the fleshed-out At Budokan -- from the breakneck opener "Hello There" to "Clock Strikes Ten" -- offers freeze-frame evidence that, for a while at least, Cheap Trick was among the greatest, screwiest rock 'n' roll bands on the planet. And now, 20 years after the fact, they've got the live album to prove it.

-- John Floyd

Widespread Panic
Light Fuse Get Away
(Capricorn)

It's been a long time coming, and it's good front to back. Widespread Panic, the veteran Southern rock band that's made a living on high-energy, on-stage improvisation, has finally captured its appeal on plastic. Culled from concerts throughout the group's 12-year history, Light Fuse Get Away is a must-have for fanatics and casual admirers alike.

The packaging alone is worth the price, designed to resemble a box of roman candles, the colorful double disc sports dragons, Chinese characters, fireworks warnings ("Caution Loud Report"), and lots of flames. It's fun, as is the music, which only backfires if you're looking for sensitivity. In the pothead utopia of WSP (as the band is called by its bootlegging fans), all is good and groovy.

This two-hours-plus set kicks off with "Porch," which basically sums up the band: "Havin' a good time/Watchin' the sun shine," goes the refrain, followed by lengthy solos from all six of the band's members. This approach is taken on most of the album's 19 songs, 4 of which break the ten-minute mark. "Love Tractor," led by John Hermann's fat organ, combines Southern rock and a reggae rhythm while John Bell lays down his gritty, Dave Matthews-esque vocals. "Space Wrangler" is also here in all its tripped-out glory: The band floats seamlessly through various tempo, rhythm, and volume changes before reaching a furious climax. It's followed by the road-tested shuffle "Travelin' Light," written by J.J. Cale.

The set's gem is "Pickin' Up the Pieces," featuring Branford Marsalis on saxophone. Too short at only five minutes, its jazzy melody, chantlike vocals, and soft electric piano stand out on an otherwise one-mood album. It's a perfect backdrop for Marsalis' sweet, shifty improvisation. Other standouts include "Papa Legba," a Talking Heads original given operatic gusto, and "Barstools & Dreamers," a multitiered, 11-minute jam. Light Fuse Get Away captures everything that Widespread Panic is (and isn't). This group of brilliant hippie-rockers play flawlessly, furiously, and, seemingly at times, forever.

-- Jonathan Lesser

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