[Kansas =3; Foreigner = 1 (The guy with white hair... duh!); Styx = 3 (yes I consider Tommy Shaw an original member! And yes Chuck Panozzo only comes out for a few numbers).]
…lets consider this from another perspective: “Can those bands still perform at a top level?” That’s a much better question, and the answer is: heck yeah they can! And furthermore, if you want a great summer show full of hit songs and great energy, look no further.
Kansas started off playing to a one-third capacity crowd. Before they finished their first song, Point Of No Return, we were three-fourths full and on our feet! It was a fantastic beginning to what would ultimately be groove-alistic prog rock experience basking in the glow that is Dust In The Wind, Fight Fire With Fire, Hold On and of course – to round out a very tight and entertaining set - Carry On My Wayward Son. Steve Walsh, Phil Ehart and Rich Williams are the original members of Kansas (Billy Greer has been in the band for 25 years which hardly makes him a new member!), Let me tell you they did not disappoint the faithful who have undoubtedly followed them lo these many years. On this tour Foreigner and Styx will be co-headlining and taking turns in the top spot. On this particular night, Styx would be on top.
Foreigner has a new singer (well, new in 2005): Kelly Hansen. He is a rock star… seriously. He sings like Lou Gramm for the sake of Foreigner, but with more power (at this point Lou has lost a lot of range because umm… ’cause he’s really old and these songs are very hard to sing). That being said, there is no Foreigner without the amazing Lou Gramm, so bow down and show respect! The king is dead! Long live the king! Kelly Hanson is a local boy from Los Angeles; he commands the stage with pants that are way to tight for my liking (especially on a dude), but he does “bring it” full on for the entire set, savoring every moment of what I am sure is a life’s work; waiting to perform in front of so many people. The last guy standing is Mick Jones, who with Gramm is responsible for more hits than any one band should have. Though he has lost some mobility, his guitar playing is flawless as well as timelessly cool. Multi-instrumentalist Thom Gimbel plays rhythm guitar, some keys, and of course – where would we be without him burning up the saxophone solo in Urgent!? Jeff “the animal” Pilson (Dokken, Dio) is a thundergod on bass and a physical tyrant on stage. Michael Bluestein takes on most of the all-important synth duties (and was an incredibly cool guy backstage). The drummer was a very recent addition, and did a safe but good job. Foreigner has a new album called Can’t Slow Down which has three great songs on it Can’t Slow Down, In Pieces (both of which they played live) and – the best of the three - When It Comes To Love (which should be the third single). Sadly, the record also has inexcusably cheesy production. The new songs sounded more like rock when played live (than they do when I hear them playing in Walmart).
Foreigner had one more very cool trick up their sleeve: when they brought out a local high school choir to help them with their encore, I Want to Know What Love Is. Overall, they left me with two thoughts:
1) Wow – that Kelly Hanson can sing, and
2) Every song but two were hit songs… amazing!
Styx took the stage at approx 10:15pm, and the only problem I have with them is the set was not long enough! Speaking of rock stars, Tommy Shaw is one of the most underrated rock guitarists alive (you can thank Dennis De Young for that). Standing 5 foot nothing, he is a volcanic performer with seemingly endless energy and a kink of ethereal agelessness. (It’s getting kind of spooky: I’m getting older and he does not appear to be).
James “JY” Young was looking awesome in his tailored black suit, ripping nasty solos as always and doing his sort of goofy front man schtick while singing Miss America. On the revolving keyboard and sharing the bulk of lead vocals with Shaw is Lawrence Gowan (I think he is Canadian but we shan’t be holding that against him… ok?) I don’t know if it was because Styx was headlining, but Gowan was in rare form. When he was not pulverizing the keys, he was prowling the stage like a jungle cat.
His vocals really are fantastic, as evidenced on Come Sail Away. Ricky Phillips (The Babys, Bad English , Coverdale-Paige) Is the bass-man extraordinaire, and always seems to me like he really enjoys sharing the stage with the other members. For those of you who think that Styx is a soft rock outfit, you could not be more wrong. Just look at Todd Sucherman, one of the best drummers I have ever seen. He could easily play in the likes of Iron Maiden or something heavier! He gives Styx the edge that Tommy Shaw and JY have always been looking for. Styx is one of the best touring bands out there… go see them. The rumor is that the next Styx project is Regeneration, which will be classic tracks re-recorded in their new harder versions (a dangerous proposition indeed). All in all, the bar was set high from the first song by Kansas to the Styx encore, and everyone kept up their end of the deal, delivering a memorable experience for old and new fans alike.
I went to show with my good friend Gary and his 18 year old daughter Jessica (an aspiring songwriter); and to be honest, the best moment for me was when I looked over and saw a proud dad looking at his kid who was “getting” what all the fuss about classic rock is for. In case you’re not sure you want to make the show this summer a priority, let me tell you just some of the songs I heard last night: Point Of No Return, Dust In The Wind, Carry On My Wayward Son, Hot Blooded, Juke Box Hero, Cold As Ice, Urgent, Head Games, Blue Morning Blue Day, I Want to Know What Love Is, Starrider, The Grand Illusion, Madame Blue, Too Much Time on My Hands, Blue Collar Man and Come Sail Away. If that’s not enough for you, then you’re already dead or way to jaded to be any fun. United In Rock we are and United In Rock we stood.
4 out of 5 Anarchy Speakers
Ronnie James Dio lost his hard fought battle with cancer today, and has left in his wake a sad yet grateful lifelong fan. Like so many before me, I found Dio in the early eighties, first by goofing on his elfish nature and over-the-top vocals; and then of course falling in love with his deep conviction and unapologetic rock and roll ethos. Dio had a very long and fruitful career as a frontman: from Elf to Rainbow to Black Sabbath. (And later Heaven And Hell, also known as Black Sabbath… huh?!) Let me get one sacrilegious thing straight: Both Rainbow and Black Sabbath were better with Dio as the singer. Yep. I said it. If you don’t know his music, do yourself a favor and pick up Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Dio’s Holy Diver and Last In Line, Black Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell, Mob Rules, Dehuminizer and Live Evil. I was fortunate enough to see Dio perform both as a solo artist as well as with Black Sabbath on the Holy Diver, Dehuminizer, and Heaven And Hell (as the band name) tours. Dio has always been thought of as a kind of dungeons and dragons, sulfur and brimstone, devil with horns guy; but in reality he was a like a filmmaker who is fascinated by certain subjects. Oh by the way, you know who came up with the devil horns gesture that has become synonymous with heavy metal?… Yeah, he did. Everything he did rocked; some records sold better than others, but all of them were authentic (Master Of The Moon very underrated record from his solo collection)!
Dio never went away from the imagery he loved. His operatic, powerful voice captured the imagination of anyone willing to believe in Rainbows and Dark Magic. It was all a rich tapestry and it was all in fun. Dio was a very well read and intelligent man. He was not “into” the devil as some scared and ignorant people have claimed. He gave joy to so many, especially with his live performances. He could command the stage better than almost anyone I have seen; remarkable for someone of his small stature. He was pure power and magic.
Today is a dark day in hard rock and heavy metal, but I believe that Dio would want us to celebrate him, not mourn his passing. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Wendy Dio and their family during what must be a very hard time. To us, it is the passing of icon. To those who were close to him, it is much more.
Dio, you will be missed but never forgotten.
“We’ll know for the first time, if we’re evil or divine, we’re the last in line”
Ronnie James Dio 7.10.42 – 5.16.10
Blackberry Smoke is a country fried southern swamp boogie and rock and roll review band. What little I do know about this kind of music can be summed up thusley: Lynard Skynard, Molly Hatchet with just a touch of the underrated April Wine. What’s most interesting to me about their latest album Little Piece Of Dixie is how much I like it so I felt compelled to give it an honest listen and try to be objective. I am a proud “Yankee” and don’t usually have to much to say about most things southern so believe me it was a surprise! Extremely well produced by Dann Huff and Justin Niebank L.P.O.D plays like a fun throwback to a simpler time when men were men and… Good One Comin’ On starts the party off with an ode to getting a buzz on and enjoying life without the trappings of adulthood which is all the more enjoyable when track two Like I Am begs the question “can you love me like I am”? In May the band will be re-releasing this album with a bonus track Yesterday’s Wine a cover of a Willie Nelson hit featuring George Jones and Jamey Johnson (would love to tell you about it but I did not receive the updated CD… boo-hoo) Brothers Richard (Bass) and Brit Turner (Drums) handle the rhythm section duties quite well while Paul Jackson fills out some very crafty guitar work throughout. Charlie Starr’s lead vocals although predictable in his delivery is no less authentic and heartfelt as he preaches a litany of life problems that he is willing to talk about as soon as he finishes his beer. The guitars get an extra mention because Starr and Jackson play well together and more importantly they never get so bogged down in their main genre’s to miss out on the opportunity to be interesting (there is a whole lot of nasty guitar licks on this record). Most of the songs presented have catchy chorus’s (which is much harder than it sounds) Track six Who Invented The Wheel starts in such a way (like rhyming wheel and steel) that I was fully ready to goof on them, but being an objective music lover I let it play and of course it is my favorite song on the collection now. In Who Invented The Wheel Starr is looking for someone to blame in what must have been a senseless tragedy. There really are no bad songs on L.P.O.D. in fact they are all good which is fantastic given that this is neither a country nor a southern rock record but somehow both and more. All members except drummer Brit Turner share backing vocal duties with fine power and clarity. Track eight Say A Prayer For The Little Man is a nice slice of real life with gorgeous acoustic guitar to match while track nine I’d Be Lyin’ reminds us that these are good old boys after all. That being said however these good old boys are very talented musicians and songwriters and have something more to offer than “there’s a tear in my beer” cheesy pop country or “kicken ass and taking names” cheesy southern rock. Make no mistake at the end of the day this is rock and roll record and a darn good one at that.
3.5 out of 5 Anarchy Speakers