On July 4, 1979, northern Illinois natives Cheap Trick performed alongside fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famers AC/DC, headlining a legendary concert just outside their hometown of Rockford, Illinois.
42 years later to the day, the classic rockers returned home for another 4th of July performance near Rockford in Loves Park, Illinois, amongst only a handful of live dates the band has performed in the last sixteen months following the onset of the COVID pandemic in America.
“This is our fourth show,” said founding guitarist Rick Nielsen on stage Sunday. “So if you see a little rust, it was a year and a half!” he joked. “It’s not like getting on a bicycle. I can’t do that either.”
The Cheap Trick homecoming capped the Long Play Music Fest at Rivets Stadium, home to minor league baseball’s Rockford Rivets, a weekend festival which saw promoter StarEvents book headlining appearances by 90s alternative stalwarts Gin Blossoms and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy throughout the weekend.
Cheap Trick launched into a 90 minute set appropriately with “Hello There,” the first cut from their 1977 album In Color, one which went onto achieve even greater notoriety as the lead track on the Cheap Trick at Budokan album, one of the most infamous live albums in rock history, and still the best selling Cheap Trick record, moving over three million copies since its release in 1978.
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“Here’s a track from Budokan,” said Nielsen Sunday, setting up the group’s take on “Big Eyes.” “It’s from before most of you were born. But I was there.”
Sunday’s set in Loves Park was a family affair for Cheap Trick. Nielsen’s son Daxx has handled drums since original drummer Bun E. Carlos ceased touring in 2010 and Sunday night, singer Robin Zander’s son Robin Taylor Zander handled bass for Tom Petersson who underwent open heart surgery in March.
“I don’t know if all of you know it but Tom, our bass player, had open heart surgery,” explained Nielsen in his onstage role as master of ceremonies. “He said he wanted to be here but doctor’s orders. But we’re very lucky because we have Robin Taylor Zander here!” he continued, teasing snippets of The Who’s “Substitute” and ELO’s “Do Ya” before launching into “Boys & Girls & Rock N Roll.”
As the band rounded second, “Dream Police” was a late highlight, singer Robin Zander huddling with his son to sing the classic cut.
Prior to Cheap Trick’s 90 minute set, fellow Illinois rockers Off Broadway rolled out an hour and a half of their own, kicking things off with a rollicking take on “Bad Indication,” singer Jim Cunningham stepping in for ill lead vocalist Cliff Johnson.
“Anyone drinking yet?” joked the group, reminding festivalgoers to stay hydrated as temperatures soared north of 90 early in the day outside Chicago.
The group battled through early sound issues, rolling out fare like “Bad Girls” and “U.S. Girls” in succession later, setting the stage for Cheap Trick and fireworks on the 4th of July.
Loves Park Mayor Gregory Jury was on hand to present Cheap Trick the key to the city as the group rounded third and headed for home at Rivets Stadium.
“This is so cool. I grew up in Loves Park for chrissake!” said Rick Nielsen of the honor. “I just heard from the mayor I get a get out of jail free card too,” he joked.
“Alright, I need your help on this song,” said Robin Zander, setting up “Never Had a Lot to Lose.”
Rick’s picks flew as the guitarist strapped on a double necked guitar bearing his cartoon-like visage following “Surrender” as the group wrapped up their special Sunday night homecoming with “Goodnight Now.”
“What a beautiful night!” said the elder Nielsen. “God damn it feels good to do this,” Zander concurred.