It's been a busy summer for Cheap Trick, with the release of their hometown titled "Rockford" CD on 6/6/06, and since then the band have played to audiences on the East and West Coasts of America, some places in between, Canada, and even in Britain. Early September saw them returning to Rockford and north Chicagoland for a couple of weekend shows.
Fri 1 September
I'll spare you too many travel details, as you'll probably know the routine if you've read my travel/show reviews over a number of years! Leaving my home in Leeds at 3.15am on a dark, wet morning, I caught the 6.05am flight from Manchester, England to Amsterdam, and the morning KLM flight from there over to Chicago, where the weather was mild, overcast, dry and breezy when I arrived 8 hours after departing from Amsterdam.
Sat 2 September - Cheap Trick in Rockford, IL
It was a nice, warm day, and after a leisurely morning Patricia and I left the north Chicago suburbs at lunchtime to drive up to Rockford. Nice to see that the big billboard advertising the "Rockford" CD can still be seen off to the right of I-90 as you approach the Rockford exits, albeit some way from the highway.
Our first stop was the Beefaroo on Riverside Drive, and nice to see the new CT display up on the wall. The old one was certainly fading, as I recall from my last visit here many months ago. Nice to catch old friends Lisa J and Junko there and catch up with them, as well as have what was likely to be dinner! Afterwards, Lisa and Junko headed back to their hotel, whilst we hit State Street for a little shopping, plus a stop at Guitar Centre. The Guitar Centre building can be found on the left hand side as you drive along State St towards downtown, and is set back off the road some way, so easy to miss. However, we spotted it in time, parked, and went to see the CT display. Unfortunately the afternoon sunlight made it hard to really see the display, and even worse to take photos of it! But it includes a cut down drumkit of Bun Es including bass drum with CT logo, plus a large picture of Rick and a couple of CT amps.
We reached downtown Rockford at 4.15pm, parked near the Metro Center and wandered down towards Davis Park and the entrance to the outdoor venue for tonights show which was part of Rockford's "On The Waterfront" festival. Nice to see a few friends standing on a street corner deciding where to try and find food, so there were big hellos all round with Dawn, Deanna, Adam B from New York and the Carolina Man, Jimmy! We stood around for awhile before walking off and exploring the fenced side of the venue, before the gates were opened at 6pm. There was a large, covered stage set up at the Founders Landing end of the park, and then a large area of rows of reserved seating. Beyond that was a larger expanse of park where people could picnic, bring their own garden chairs or stand to watch the show. Food, drink and merchandise tents surrounded this large expanse of open (but fenced) park to the rear. It was cool to see three new designs of CT shirt on the merchandise tent, and I kept popping back during the evening to see if it had gotten busy enough to need my help.
The opening act was unusual for a Cheap Trick show, Grammy winning blues singer and guitarist, Buddy Guy. His band took to the stage at 7.35pm, with the man himself coming on a minute or two later to a warm reception from the crowd. He certainly had a theme about him, wearing a polka dot shirt, playing a polka dot guitar, and even his wah-wah pedal on the stage sported polka dots! Buddy Guy was great, a consumate blues musician, and ably supported by a very talented band. He joked with the crowd in between songs too, which is always a nice way to win people over. To the front of the right side ("Tom's side") of the stage were steps down to the front row of the reserved seating area, and I wondered what they were for. The rest of the front stage area had the usual crush barriers as normally found at most gigs. Anyway, about halfway through Buddy's 75 minute set my query was answered, as Buddy came down the steps during a song and proceeded to play and sing whilst walking out into the crowd! And this wasn't just a short walk, he went right along the front row, back 30 yards on that side, then through the crowd towards the back of the reserved area, almost out into the park on Toms side, before returning to the stage! He went "walkabout" for maybe 10 minutes, and that must certainly have been challenging for the roadie with torch and security guy who accompanied him, as well as the video cameraman! Oh, I forgot to say that at the rear of the reserved seating area (maybe 40 yards from the stage) was the tower with the lighting and soundboard desks, and on the rear of that facing the GA crowd further back in the park was a large video screen.
Buddy Guys set finished at 8.50pm and it had been very enjoyable to watch and listen to. I normally don't spend many lines waxing lyrical about opening acts, but Buddy Guy and his band had been a class act, no doubt. Soon after the finished and whilst the tech's cleared the stage for Cheap Trick, there was a 10 minute firework display over the adjoining Rock River, very impressive.
Shortly before the end of Buddy Guy's set, I went back to check on the merchandise booth, so see if any help was needed. When I say "went back", I mean I fought my way back, literally. The booth was probably 100 yards from the stage, but the crowd outside the reserved seating area was huge! It was very, very crowded on the river side, and the large area beyond the reserved seating was absolutely packed with people. I later heard estimates of 10-12,000 people there in total, and I wasn't surprised. It was a crowded sea of people and it took ages to fight my way back to the booth, and as long again to get back to my seat! And there were a lot of boats on the nearby river, getting an evening of free entertainment. It reminded me a lot of 6 years earlier, and the bands historic "Silver" anniversary show that was released on both DVD and CD.
At last the lights dimmed, and at 9.30pm on this warm, dry evening, Cheap Trick took to the large stage.
RN black suit, black t-shirt
(drone intro), Hello There, Big Eyes, Taxman Mr Thief, Welcome to the World, If You Want My Love, Come On Come On Come On, Best Friend, I Want You to Want Me, I Know What I Want, Voices, If It Takes a Lifetime, Flame, 70s Song, Surrender // (encore) Dream Police, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodnight Now (with 5 yes, count em, FIVE endings!)
The band certainly put on a good performance for the giant, enthusiastic hometown crowd. After "Big Eyes" Rick reminded the crowd that "Just in case you're not sure, we are not Buddy Guy!" Mid-way through "Taxman Mr Thief" Robin changed guitars to a sky blue Stratocaster, I'm not sure what happened with the guitar he started with. After "Taxman" Rick noted that the band had released a new CD, adding "we were the only non-Satan band to have a record out on 6-6-06" He then teased the crowd by adding "The name was <pause> it's title was <pause> "ROCKFORD!" Of course that brought a big cheer, as every mention of either the city or CD did all night!
Rick in particular seemed to be playing up to the hometown crowd, playing some big, expansive and exaggerated guitar chords towards the end of "Welcome to the World", and at the end laying his guitar down on his front stage monitor where it droned before his tech quickly retrieved it. Certainly each band member had family and friends at the show, either out in the crowd or off stage to one side, so I'm sure Bun, Tom and Robin played up a little more because of them. Throughout the show they all performed with smiles and energy.
Rick had the lights up after "Welcome to the World", noting fans from Japan, as well as noting a fan near the front holding up a WI licence plate "TRIKFAN" - "She's from Wisconsin come smell our dairy air!" He also noted that there were even people in the crowd from ROCKFORD!! Cue that big cheer again!
Tonight was one of the first shows where "Come On Come On Come On" was played live (with "Perfect Stranger" now being dropped from the setlist), and I thought it sounded good, with Rick very energised during it. Afterwards he remarked "That was recorded right here in Rockford Illinois" He then pointed out Bun E's parents in the crowd, then other fans including Junko, "She was at Budokan!"
Robin returned to the stage for "Best Friend" with his hair tied up in a bun, and the song was even more of a monster than usual, with the band playing it longer and harder than they normally do (at least in my opinion). The band's photographer Mike Graham was in the gap at front stage taking pictures throughout the song, and at the end Rick handed his guitar to Mike and made him pass it to a fan at front. Then, after a long pause, the band went into "I Want You to Want Me".
After "IWYTWM" Rick noted that both Buddy Guy and Bun E were living legends. He then introduced Tom as "last month, this man was on the cover of Bass Player magazine he's a graduate of Guildford High School it was close but he made it!" That led into some banter with Tom, who then played a minute bass solo before starting up "I Know What I Want". Rick had to change his guitar during the opening chords. Afterwards Rick said "We'd like to be here tomorrow night to see Fred Nugent!" He then went on to add that on Monday the band would be performing live on the televised Jerry Lewis Telethon. He reassured us that "If I wave, I'm waving at you and if I don't wave, I'm waving at you!" He added that "We're going to Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii this year and they call this work?" (Note, shows in some of these countries were not confirmed at the time of this show). He also informed us that " in 2007 every car licence sticker in Rockford will have our picture on it, and we hope to sell them online too take your money and put it to good use". He finished off by introducing Robin, as his favourite lead singer and "graduate of Harlem High School" which brought another big local cheer.
Rick played his yellow "Rockford" guitar for "If It Takes a Lifetime", and was so engrossed at side stage early on that he had to run across the stage to make the first chorus! That was funny to see! The song sounded more polished than it had when I heard it first in Kelowna, Canada a few weeks ago.
Robin was very animated during "Surrender", and during the song someone threw a CD in a jewel case onto the stage which only just missed hitting Robin. After the song the band acknowledged the crowd before leaving the stage, and Rick blew a big kiss to the crowd in the dark as he was leaving. When he came back on, he announced that "We've saved the best for last does that mean you want to hear some more?" The "YES!" from the crowd was deafening! Cool to hear "Auf Wiedersehen" for the first time in awhile, and "Goodnight Now" just kept on going, with 5 endings!
The show ended at 10:55pm, and during "Aufie" I'd rushed out through the packed crowd to help out with the post show rush selling t-shirts etc.
After that was all done, a small group of us walked to the nearby Paragon restaurant, where Miles Nielsen's new band, H.M.S were playing, and a lot of other CT fans/friends were already there. This was where the Rockford CD launch party had been held in early June, and in a small room to the side of the main dining/bar area, local photographer Mary Alice Westadt had a number of her impressive 75-76 era photo's of the band on display and for sale. Very cool to meet her.
Patricia and I left at around 1am to drive back to Chicagoland, and it was good to get to bed around 2.30am as it had been a long but fun day.
Sunday 3 September - Cheap Trick in Highland Park, ILSunday morning dawned mostly sunny, and after a leisurely morning we co-ordinated with some friends to meet them at the Piece gourmet pizza restaurant in Chicago. Of course this is the place that Rick has an interest in, and featured a couple of years ago on Rachael Ray's TV show. We got down there at lunchtime, eventually managing to park, and good to see friends like Junko, Lisa, Cara, Jimmy, Dawn, Adam and others there! We had some individual pizza's, followed by sharing one of the delicious chocolate pizza's that had featured on TV! Mmmmm ! Oh, and Rick's original 5 neck guitar is on display high up near the ceiling, and there are a couple of pictures of him on the wall.
After leaving we drove back up to Highland Park in the north suburbs of Chicago, and parked in the huge parking field at the Ravinia venue. Of course we'd have gone this early anyway, but we needed to today as, if you didn't get into this lot, then the other parking lots were some way away and you had to apparently get shuttle buses to/from them. Anyway, we all got parked up around 4.20pm and walked in the sunshine to the entrance.
Now, I've seen Cheap Trick in all kinds of venues, from small bars and clubs to large amphitheatres; in casino's and even in (or from) a rodeo ring. But this was new to me. Ravinia is a HUGE park, big and sprawling, and delightful in the afternoon sun. The actual venue was a permanent one, with a large stage and amphitheatre seating for a good couple of thousand or so, and all covered by a shell roof. BUT it seems loads of people come along to concerts here throughout the summer, and sit out and picnic. And as we walked in, we could see the large area of park with lots of people already with garden chairs, small picnic tables, blankets, food, wine, even a few with candles and candelabra's! Somewhat bizarre. And there were speakers up in the trees up to a couple of hundred yards from the stage, so that the thousands in the park could stay on their blankets and chairs, and listen to the show without ever seeing the stage or the band! On this warm Sunday afternoon there were lots of families with children, including one near the venue playing a custom, home made CT logo type guitar. I helped for some of pre-show time on the merchandise booth nearest the venue, and as show time approached it was amazing to see how packed the park was, even 200+ yards from the venue. If there were 2,500 or so in the amphitheatre, there must have been three or four times as many out in the park.
The show was opened by the Wandering Sons at 7pm, who played a nice set and got a good reception. Cheap Trick came on at 8.15pm.
RN black pants, prey fine-checked jacket, black
t-shirt with some design
(drone intro), Hello There, Big Eyes, Oh Candy, Welcome to the World, If You Want My Love, Come On Come On Come On, Best Friend, I Want You to Want Me, I Know What I Want, Voices, If It Takes a Lifetime, Flame, 70s Song, Surrender // (encore) Dream Police, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodnight Now (with 3 endings)
It was interesting to note a fifth person off on Tom's side of the stage, and it took a while from my vantage point back up by the soundboard that it was Tod Howarth playing keyboards. Tod had toured and played keyboards for the band for short spells during the mid 80's and through the 90's, and most recently he'd played with the band at the Hard Rock Hotel/Joint show in Las Vegas a couple of weeks earlier.
It was also interesting to note right at the start that the bands intro was changed to "Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls, will you please welcome to the stage the bast damn band this town has ever seen CHEAP TRICK!!" with "damn" replacing "f***ing"! Well, this was a classy venue after all.
After "Big Eyes", Rick announced that on the bands first album they'd done a song dedicated to a friend that had shot a lot of photo's of them, and that the photographer's daughter was here for the first time to see them - the band then went into "Oh Candy". After "Welcome to the World" Rick asked if the crowd would like to sing another one? "Was that a YES or a Ravinia YES?" he asked. "We're told there are 15,000 out in the park, can you hear us?" which led to a large but slightly distant cheer from behind us. Rick responded to that by saying "You can put the cheese down now!" and the band went into "If You Want My Love".
It was nice to see the crowd in the auditorium standing from the start of the show, and after "Come On Come on Come On" Rick tried to give his guitar to someone at the front but gave up. He then announced that "It's our pleasure to be back in Ravinia, last year was our first time here". He then had the lights up and noted fans from Japan, Texas, New Jersey, California, Wisconsin " to which there was some good natured booing. He then went on to add " LA also some people from Illinois!" which obviously brought a big cheer from both the seated crowd as well as those out on the lawns.
The band sounded relaxed and tight, though there was a slight timing glitch as Bun E started the drum intro to "I Want You to Want Me" whilst Robin was doing his intro to the song, but no big deal. After that song Rick mentioned the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon tomorrow, repeating his "If I wave, I'm waving at you and if I don't wave, I'm waving at you!" line. He then introduced Tom who, as usual, played a solo minute or so on bass before starting up "I Know What I Want".
After "Voices" Rick got and held up his yellow Rockford guitar, noting that it had first been played on the Conan O'Brien Show. He then introduced the next song as currently getting airplay in the North East, Midwest and California, before the band went into "If It Takes a Lifetime".
As usual, when Rick came on for the encore and asked "Does that mean you want to hear some more?" there was a big cheer, and an even bigger cheer after he asked "Are you sure you want to hear some more?" Again the encore was "Dream Police", "Auf Wiedersehen" and "Goodnight Now" with 3 endings.
The show ended at 9.34pm and it took quite a while for most of the large crowd to all get their picnic tables, chairs and cooler boxes to their cars and start leaving. We finally got away around 10.15pm, and our convoy of 4 cars headed north to try to find somewhere open late to eat. We finally found a Grill/Bar in Highwood so about a dozen of us had a late meal. And when we came out, it was raining heavily! When did that start? It was "fun" to have to run some 400 yards to get to where we'd all parked!
Monday 4 September
It's the Labor Day holiday in the USA, and it was still raining. I was flying home later too, but was able to catch Cheap Trick's appearance of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon. They were scheduled to be on between 11am and 12 noon Central Time, but ended up appearing at 12.10pm CST. Nice to see that they were broadcast nationally rather than just in the Midwest (some parts of the Telethon were national whilst others were locally broadcast and covering local fundraising efforts). The band played "If It takes a Lifetime" from Chicago.
I took off from overcast Chicago at nearly 5pm, flew overnight to Amsterdam and then back to Manchester for mid morning, and it was nice not to repeat the extreme travel problems I'd experienced a few weeks ago when arriving in Amsterdam from Seattle to find the terrorism alerts and UK flight cancellations. Manchester was surprisingly sunny when I landed at 9.10am on Tuesday morning, and as usual I drove back to my office in Leeds for 4 hours before giving in to tiredness and going home.
As always, many thanks to Patricia for her kindness and driving, and thanks also to Carla, CT and the friendly crew guys as ever. And it was a real pleasure, as always, to see so many friends at both Rockford and Highland Park. I haven't even attempted to name everybody as I know I'd miss some names and I've no intention of offending anyone. But to all the old and new friends I met, it was fun :-)
Kim Gisborne, Leeds, England - 17 Sept 2006
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