Cheap Trick Get a Hometown Hero’s Welcome in Rockford
A concert in an act’s hometown is always a special occasion. And while, say, Bruce Springsteen or Aerosmith will play the largest venues available when their tours reach New Jersey or Boston, Cheap Trick’s return to their native Rockford, Ill., on Nov. 21 found them not at the 10,000-seat BMO Harris Bank Center, but a few blocks away at the 2,400-seat Coronado Performing Arts Center, an ornate former movie palace that was first opened in 1927 and fully restored less that 15 years ago.
“Hello there, ladies and gents / Are you ready to rock,” Robin Zander sang in their traditional opener. After a storm that dumped 12 inches of snow in Rockford and delayed the band’s arrival at the theater by more than an hour, everybody was, and then some. “Hello There” segued perfectly into its In Color counterpart, “Come On, Come On” and, from there, they delivered a blistering set that drew almost entirely on their 1977-1980 output. This included the obvious hits like “Surrender,” “Dream Police” and “I Want You to Want Me,” but also deeper cuts like “Stiff Competition,” “Big Eyes” and an extended “Gonna Raise Hell.”
Even their breakthrough live disc, At Budokan, was represented by “Lookout” and their cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame.” Two new songs, “No Direction” and “Bang Zoom Crazy Hello,” fit in neatly with the older material, giving us a taste of the new album they plan to release next year.
Acting as the ADHD-addled ringleader, Rick Nielsen bounced around the stage, stood on a box for some solos, tossed picks to the audience whenever possible and changed guitars after every song (Uncle Dick came out for the perfect “Southern Girls” and his backbreaking five-neck made its appearance at the end on “Goodnight”). His nightly fling of a Kiss record during “Surrender” made it all the way up to the theater’s balcony.
Zander’s vocals remain a thing of wonder, snarling “Stiff Competition” one minute and giving a trippy rendition of “Heaven Tonight” the next. And yes, they did play “The Flame,” the oft-derided power ballad from 1988, which stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb due to it being unrepresentative of the Cheap Trick sound. True, it's their biggest hit, but it’s possible that its inclusion in the setlist is to prove that, after 27 years, Zander can still reach the high B at the end. That notion was furthered by the fact that the band drew out the climactic ending for a few bars and Zander crossed himself before going for it. Of course, he didn’t need divine intervention, because he’s Robin Zander, and he hit the note cleanly.
Tom Petersson thundered away on his custom 12-string bass, taking a solo that melded into his vocal spotlight of the night, a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” with a verse of “Heroin” thrown in there. His partner in the rhythm section, Daxx Nielsen — Rick’s son — took over for Bun E. Carlos as the touring drummer in 2010, and has added a bit more muscle to the group, as evidenced by his solo that kicked off the encore.
Before the show began, one could overhear conversations in the lobby where the natives exchanged stories about growing up with them or running into Nielsen, who still lives there (Zander and Petersson now live in Florida and Nashville, respectively). The affection Rockfordians have for their local heroes was reciprocated by the guitarist.
“I’ve seen most of you at the grocery store,” Nielsen told the crowd at one point. Earlier, he noted that his grandchildren were in attendance. He also rattled off a list of local venues they played in their early years, including the place where Zander’s parents met. That might not be the most rock n’ roll stage banter you’ll ever hear, but then, Cheap Trick were never a by-the-numbers rock band.
And for Nielsen, it was a family affair in more ways than one. In addition to Daxx playing drums, it was also his son Erron’s birthday. And another son, Miles, served as the opening act, fronting his band the Rusted Hearts. Although his sound is more folk-rock than Cheap Trick’s power pop, several of his songs take unexpected musical detours in a manner similar to his father’s band, and his vocal phrasing often reflects someone who literally learned how to sing at Zander’s feet. To date, they’ve released two excellent albums and an EP, with a third expected to arrive in April. You can learn more about him at his website.
Cheap Trick, Coronado Performing Arts Center, Rockford, Ill., Setlist
1. “Hello There”
2. “Come On, Come On”
3. “Hot Love”
5. “Big Eyes”
6. “Ain't That a Shame”
7. “Southern Girls”
8. “Stiff Competition”
9. “No Direction”
10. “Heaven Tonight”
11. “The 'In' Crowd”
12. “Baby Loves to Rock”
13. Tom Petersson bass solo / “I’m Waiting for the Man”
14. “The Flame”
15. “I Want You to Want Me"
16. “Dream Police”
17. Daxx Nielsen drum solo / “Bang Zoom Crazy Hello”
19. “Gonna Raise Hell”
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