Concert Review: Cheap Trick returns to their old stomping grounds

Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen (from left), lead singer Robin Zander and drummer Daxx Nielsen. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen (left) with bassist Tom Petersson. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By John Parks

Hometown boys Cheap Trick returned to their old stomping grounds of Rockford for a show at the “Big Orange Box” downtown (now called BMO Harris Bank Center). Quite a bit more than the name of the venue has changed since our last time seeing them here back in the late ’90s opening for Mötley Crüe.

For starters, this time, Cheap Trick was headlining, Rick Nielsen’s son, Daxx, had taken over for Bun E. Carlos on the drum throne, and this particular gig was something of a Trick family extravaganza in general.

Cheap Trick vocalist Robin Zander’s daughter, Holland, kicked off the festivities with a short set from her band, The Sensations, followed by a set from Rick’s son Miles Nielsen and his band, The Rusted Hearts.

The guys who round out Ms. Zander’s band are no strangers to our favorite Dream Policeman, either — they’ve also doubled over the years as members of local Cheap Trick tribute band Budokan 78.

The Sensations aren’t quite as fun as Holland’s old band, The Snaggs, but they were very tight musically, and performed exactly the kind of cover songs you’d probably expect from a female-fronted retro act.

Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

Miles and The Rusted Hearts were up next after a very short set change, and I will admit to being about as excited about seeing them again as I was seeing Cheap Trick.

Miles’ latest album, Miles Nielsen Presents The Rusted Hearts, is phenomenal. While producer/guitarist Daniel James McMahon and Miles might not have written or recorded these songs with the same arenas Rick frequents in mind, it was nonetheless fascinating to see the band perform them in that setting.

Miles himself made note of the fact that they’re not used to playing big rooms as much as “dive bars,” but to be honest, the material went over majestically.

The Rusted Hearts’ show began with drummer Mickey Rosenquist’s licks on “Overrated,” and from there, stuck mostly to great songs from the new album like “Sirens” and “Disease,” with the exception of a very punchy version of “Hey, Hey, Hey,” a song culled from Miles’ self-titled debut album, which closed out the set.

Miles has the wit, humor and energy to translate to the big stage, and judging by the standing ovation they received, he and his band are ready for such a leap. If you get a chance to see them in any venue, by all means, go.

I’ve been a Cheap Trick fan since the moment I discovered a well-worn copy of Heaven Tonight, and have seen them faithfully going back to The Doctor tour in 1987, but had missed the last few chances to see them since Bun E. Carlos stopped touring with the band and Daxx stepped in.

I’d heard they were playing longer and better sets with Daxx, but was still fairly skeptical, even during the opening few songs of this show … until it clicked.

Rick’s son Miles Nielsen (pictured) and his band, The Rusted Hearts, helped open the show. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

Tom Petersson has always been my personal favorite Trickster, along with Rick, and watching him be so excited to be playing with Daxx and so obviously impressed by his energy was infectious.

Robin Zander has somehow found a way to still sound fantastic after all this time, and not only did “the voice” not disappoint, more importantly, it seemed Robin was far happier on stage than the last few times I’d seen the band.

Rick was, well, Rick. The guy is as dependable as they come, and, as always, was the clown prince of rock and roll and host of the proceedings, mentioning at one point that “Daxx went to Boylan, Tom went to Guilford and Robin went to Harlem” while he was thrown out of every school in town.

It’s always as if you’re seeing time stand still watching the guys do what they do, whether they’re playing haunting gems like “Heaven Tonight” or “Gonna Raise Hell,” or frantically playing cuts from the debut like “Hot Love” or “He’s a Whore.”

The setlist at the show here was phenomenal (with the possible exception of “That ’70s Song”) and probably far deeper than the one they’ll be taking out the rest of the summer on the Aerosmith tour.

If you are from Rockford, and you know your rock and roll, you were probably here and you were definitely grinning.

From the June 6-12, 2012, issue

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