December 1998

Cheap Trick - at Budokan (Remastered)
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD 709
Originally released: 1979
Remaster released: 1997

by Greg Smith

Sound Quality ***1/2

Comparison Releases:

The Greatest Hits
Epic EK 48681

Sound Quality **1/2

At Budokan: The Complete Concert
Epic/Legacy E2K 65527

Sound Quality ***

[Reviewed on Gold CD] One of the fun parts about seeing a live rock concert is finding out what the fans do to accompany the music. When Cheap Trick played at Budokan in Japan in 1978, they were faced with an audience from the part of the world that best received them. During "I Want You to Want Me," the crowd echoed lead singer Robin Zander's vocals, screaming "Cryin'! Cryin'! Cryin'!" in a fashion simulating the effect used on the studio release of that track. Despite endless listens to this song, I'd never made the connection myself until I started listening to the two new releases of Cheap Trick's at Budokan recording that are now available.

Late last year, Mobile Fidelity remastered the ten tracks on the original Budokan album. I've been sitting on a copy for a while now, and had planned on a rave review several months back. But then a wrench got thrown into my plans. It seems that Sony is working on a complete remastering of the whole Cheap Trick catalog from its Epic/Legacy division, with Budokan being one of the first out of the gate. This version sounded pretty good too. Furthermore, it was a really deluxe treatment of the complete original concert, filling two CDs, priced only slightly higher than a single CD. Seems like a no-brainer to get the Sony recording, right? After all, it has 19 tracks instead of 10, and typically will cost much less than the Mobile Fidelity version. As is often the case, it's not quite so simple. I also grabbed my copy of Cheap Trick's Greatest Hits as a sample of what their first-generation CDs sounded like. Off we go.

"I Want You To Want Me"

The winner of the 1978 Pete Frampton Award, given to the band that most improves a turkey of a studio track when being recorded live, the version of this song on the Budokan LP was the first top-ten hit for the group.

  • Hits: While overall the song is a bit on the dull side, it's not really objectionable. Sort of what you expect from a typical live recording, sloppy bass drum and all.
  • MoFi: As soon as you hear the spoken opening, there's an obvious improvement in how well rendered the recorded space is. You're almost inside Budokan this time. Know how you sometimes get goosebumps when you're at a show and you hear the band start to play a favorite song? This live version is so real that I had this happen the first time heard it. The bass drum sounds just fine, you can really make out the details of what the crowd is doing, and, man, does Rick Nielson wail away on his guitar.
  • Sony: While there's nothing in particular to fault, this one just doesn't match the live-concert feel of the MoFi recording. Just enough subtle details are lost that I miss out on the goosebumps.

"Ain't That a Shame"

An update of the Fats Domino classic. Cheap Trick manages a cover that stays faithful to the spirit of the original while offering its own innovation.

  • Hits: More sloppy bass and muddy reproduction. This one has always been disappointing to me.
  • MoFi: The drum solo that opens the song sounds fantastic. While I think the vocals still are a bit too far back in the mix, you can't expect remastering to fix everything.
  • Sony: Even though it's very competitive with the MoFi version overall, this one still lacks a bit of vitality in comparison.


Normally when a band introduces a song "from our new album," a mass exodus for the bathroom begins. Fans hope they can get back to their seats before they miss out on a classic hit. If you listen really carefully to this Budokan concert, you can actually hear fans wetting their pants rather than taking a break during this smoking tune.

  • MoFi: More goosebumps here. Need I say more?
  • Sony: While there's no major complaints, again the Sony remastering just misses out, with a slight reduction in recording refinement.

Next, a look at what exactly you get for your money:

  • MoFi: The 10 tracks from the original Budokan release are all that's on the CD. The liner notes are extensive, with English and Japanese versions of all the lyrics and lots of pictures.
  • Sony: Back in 1993, Budokan II was released with an extra 12 tracks culled from the original master tape of the performance. With the exception of "On Top of the World," all these songs are included on the new Sony remaster. Another real bonus is that the concert is now presented in its original running order. There are no lyrics in the liner notes, but there's a fantastic presentation of the story behind the concert and the band's subsequent success. Also included on the CDs are videos for "Surrender" and "Auf Widersehen" suitable for playback on a Mac or PC. There's also some video interview material to be found. I couldn't get the user interface to the multimedia stuff working under NT 4.0 on my PC (it refused to acknowledge I had QuickTime installed correctly), but running the QuickTime viewer manually and selecting videos from the CDs worked fine.

If I'd been given either of these remastered Budokan recordings by themselves, I'd have recommended them without hesitation. But that both of them exist makes for quite a quandary. The Mobile Fidelity version is unquestionably the better-sounding release, and it includes all the tracks I like most from the concert. It elevates this music to being one of the best-sounding concert recordings I own. But unless you're got a pretty spiffy audio system, the improvement in fidelity might not even be that noticeable to you. The Sony release is far more complete and informative, and it's a better value to boot. I suspect it's a better choice for most listeners. It's kind of unfortunate that Mobile Fidelity spent their limited remastering resources working on a release that I'm sure is not selling well now that the new Complete Concert disc is out. Believe me, the company would never have taken on this album had they known of Sony's plans. But in the end, no matter which of these recent at Budokan releases you buy, you're in for a treat.