Cheap Trick ascend the throne of rock royalty at the Uptown

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Cheap Trick. // photo by Nick Spacek

Longtime readers of this publication have no doubt noticed my enduring love and appreciation for Rockford, Illinois’ finest, and the greatest American rock ‘n’ roll band, Cheap Trick. It’s been nearly a decade since the band has played a headlining slot, instead opting to tour in support of Heart, ZZ Top, Joan Jett, and Poison, among others. This made their show at the Uptown Theater on Tuesday night something special for fans of the long-running power-pop act.

To kick things off, the band opened with “Dream Police,” rather than “Hello There,” and there was no “Waiting for the Man” cover—songs that have been staples of their opening sets for the past few years, immediately demonstrating that a Cheap Trick headlining set is quite a different beast. Headlining meant that the band had way more room for solos, be it Rick Nielsen on guitar, Dax Nielsen on drums, Tom Peterson on bass, or even Robin Zander bantering and stretching out, vocally.

Their cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame” had the full Budokan intro, with Zander leaning against the proscenium arch, cool as hell, before strolling over to the mic to croon, “You made me cry/ When you said goodbye,” to the thrill of the crowd.

Additionally, as Cheap Trick’s opener features Nielsen’s son, Miles and Zander’s son, Robin Taylor, played guitar and sang backup, allowing for some fun options in the band’s performance. On the band’s cover of the Move’s “California Man,” Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Heart’s Adam Plamann played backup sax, and “Voices” brought out Miles and his band to lend extra guitar and a full chorus. There were nine people on stage—a large number of them related, proving that blood harmonies fucking rule.

Robin Taylor Zander took lead on “Top of the World.” He hit some great high notes, though his voice was a bit reedy and didn’t have as much range as his dad, never quite hitting that pocket of excellence in the low-to-high transition the elder Zander is known for.

There was killer guitar work from the youngster, though, and his vocal delivery was also close enough to allow the Zander’s to make it seem like the elder could hit that last, soaring high note of “The Flame.”

While shooting photos, Rick Nielsen threw a pick at me, and I almost dropped my camera in excitement. I may have also been overwhelmed because this was the loudest show I’ve ever seen at the Uptown, and that includes Slayer. A perfect example of that was Cheap Trick’s really dirty version of “I Know What I Want” with a snarling Peterson on vocals, absolutely killing it.

In addition to deep cuts like “Borderline” from Next Position Please and In Color‘s “So Good to See You,” the band did play a few more recent songs, like “Light Up the Fire” from last year’s In Another World, which Nielsen introduced by saying, “This song’s off our last album, which got no airplay.” However, it was all in jest, not animosity, because “We’re Cheap Trick, so who cares?”

Openers Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Heart made the drive down from Rockford to play a tight 45-minute set as openers. Their Cheap Trick meets Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers sound was pleasant enough if a bit samey by the end of their performance. They were solid musicians, but none of their songs ever quite grabbed me much.

All photos by Nick Spacek

Cheap Trick

Cheap Trick set list
Dream Police
Just Got Back
Stiff Competition
Big Eyes
California Man (The Move cover)
On Top of the World
Ain’t That a Shame (Fats Domino cover)
Voices (with Miles Nielsen and The Rusted Hearts)
Light Up the Fire
So Good to See You
I Know What I Want
The Flame
I Want You to Want Me

Clock Strikes Ten

Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts

Categories: Music