Live Review: Foreigner and Styx Still Captivate

Published on June 14th, 2010

4699912010_f345da4957_zJune 12, 2010 – Styx vs. Foreigner. Many rock fans have no doubt held a spirited debate about which mega classic rock act is superior. Do the sing-a-long classics of Styx a la “Come Sail Away” trump the adrenaline-fueled rockers (“Hot Blooded“) of Foreigner?

Fans gathered at Jiffy Lube Live outside of Washington, DC on Saturday night didn’t have to make that difficult decision, instead they were treated to over three hours of the hits from both acts – and then some. Styx and Foreigner are “United in Rock” this summer with special guest Kansas, and it’s hard to imagine a concert with more crowd favorites.

Styx proved its worth as the band that never stops touring, and always manages to sound better and better with each show. Foreigner swept the crowd into a rocking frenzy with their energizing stage show, while opening act Kansas delivered a short, but stacked set of its more mainstream material. All said and done, the 10,000+ rockers gathered were certainly given their fill of music, that’s not to say they wouldn’t have been up for more.

Kansas boarded the stage first, and broke into a tight set of songs mostly harvested from the band’s most powerful period in the mid-1970s. Although a five piece band consisting of mostly original members, violinist David Ragsdale tends to be a focal point as a result of his rapid, animated playing style. But coming in at a close second in the popularity contest would be Steve Walsh. The group’s founding singer and keyboardist did an admirable job of replicating a very difficult style of singing that he achieved three decades earlier. The high notes in “Carry on My Wayward Son” are no easy task for any singer, let alone one who is a few days shy of his 59th birthday.

When performing a longer set, the members of Kansas tend to showcase their natural progressive rock style with more prominence. Fans who know the true progressive potential of one of their favorite acts may not have been satisfied with 40 minutes of hits that barely scratched the surface, but the skilled delivery of those songs was enough to satisfy most.

“Conquering the world, one amphitheater at a time,” – one of the band’s slogans says it best. If you’re a rock concert regular and you haven’t seen Styx perform before, well, that’s just impossible. The band never, ever takes a break from the grueling life on the road, delivering a stunning live show that somehow manages to never get old. And why would it ever seem old or tired? Tommy Shaw sings as if he’s still 25 each night, James “JY” Young is a perennial guitar animal, Lawrence Gowan fuses constant energy with a brilliant vocal style, and the core three are joined by one of the hottest rhythm sections touring today. Bassist Ricky Phillips brings charisma and sharp playing to the table, while renowned drummer Todd Suchermann pounds like a “freight train,” as Shaw puts it. Aside from the absence of some key faces, there’s nothing about a Styx show in 2010 that would suggest that it’s not still 1981. And for a band that strives to achieve the power of its prime, that’s a very good thing.

When the five that form Styx suddenly walked out on stage a minute or two early, there was a surprise or two in store. The blaring chords that emerged as the band faced in a circle toward the drum kit were not from one of the mega-hits typically chosen to open the show, but rather from “Borrowed Time“, a minor but well-crafted hit from 1979. Shaw’s soaring vocals captivated in the way they always do, his sweet sounding pipes are a true Styx signature. Duties were traded to JY for the second round of singing in the tune; his gruff but vibrant tone giving complement to Shaw’s.

But the song quickly became a medley – borrowing signature moments from old favorites “Superstars“, “Rockin’ the Paradise“, “Pieces of Eight“, and even “Mr. Roboto“. Fans who thought they’d never again hear the phrase “Domo Arigato” at a Styx concert without Dennis DeYoung were proven wrong.

The rest of the show in many ways built off the potent opener, expanding on each album that was briefly touched on in the medley. “Suite Madame Blue” was brought to life with a flawless vocal performance from Lawrence Gowan (including that haunting, sustained high note), along with plenty of dramatic flair. The excitement that hits when the piercing and intrepid keyboard notes lead to an all-out guitar and drum war is second to none.

There were also those fun elements that no Styx show would be complete without. Yes, that would include JY’s tendency to sneak up to Gowan’s keyboard and hit a few keys, and Tommy’s clever insertion of new lyrics – “Is it any wonder I’m not crazy…maybe I am?” The free-spirited attitude and passion that Shaw displays each time he performs “Fooling Yourself” is simply contagious, and the rest of the band knows it. “Ladies and gentlemen, Tommy Shaw, singing with his entire heart and soul, the only way he knows how,” remarked JY later in the show.

But the rebellious guitarist had his own moments to shine. JY’s eyes widened to great effect after his voice achieved the squealing notes during “Miss America“, and the musician seemed to take each guitar solo with pride.

Three guitarists on stage led to a surplus of group jamming, whether it was Tommy and JY feeding off each other on one side of the stage, or Ricky Phillips ripping it up near the drum kit. Keeping one’s eyes on all the stage action at once became impossible. Not to mention the constant array of keyboard spinning and backwards playing from Gowan.

Another surprise arrived in the form of “High Enough“, a hit from Shaw’s 1990 side project Damn Yankees. Although not a Styx song by any stretch, the perfected harmonies and high note prowess from Shaw did the song more than justice. Not long after, the band was joined by a very special guest in founding bass player Chuck Panozzo. One of two Panozzo brothers from Styx history, Chuck now makes select appearances on tours as his health condition allows.

Wrapping things up were two of the group’s heavier cuts – “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade“. With the exhausting show completed, gifts were tossed into the crowd per a usual routine. Feeling thirsty after jamming to Styx? Lawrence Gowan will throw you his water bottle. Ready for some sporting activities? Tommy has your beach balls and frisbees. Styx finally left the stage empty handed to a roar of applause.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, would you please welcome…Foreigner!” Tossing themselves out onto the stage with full force, Foreigner instantly proved that the night was far from over. Opener “Double Vision” saw singer Kelly Hansen firing up the crowd by thrusting his microphone stand in the air and at times singing dangerously close to the edge of the stage. As the band slammed into the next track, “Head Games”, Hansen joined up with Mick Jones, his guitar wielding counterpart. Although he’s an intense and focused player, it’s still easy to see that Jones is having a blast on stage with a band that’s tighter than ever, and a singer who’s brought the spirit back into its songs.

Foreigner today is vastly different from what it was even less than a decade ago. Aside from a change in singer, keyboardist Michael Bluestein and drummer Jason Sutter have been added. Dokken alum Jeff Pilson joins in on bass, and instrumentalist Tom Gimbel completes the lineup. Gimbel, however, has been handling saxophone and rhythm guitar duties in Foreigner for over 15 years.

But with a band that’s so evolved from, say, 1981 when Foreigner became one of the biggest acts in the world, how can the sound still be the same? Perhaps that’s where Jones comes in. Aside from producing an absolutely monster sound from his guitar during extravagant solos, Mick Jones may just be the glue that holds the group together.

Midway through the show, “Urgent” retained all of its original thrust; its blazing sax lines and chorus harmonies firmly in place. Tom Gimbel was down on his knees delivering the last bits of his saxophone solo, while Jeff Pilson found himself in a head-banging, hair tossing frenzy. Meanwhile Hansen never seemed to stop the action as he managed to belt out the most challenging of notes while in constant motion. The singer was certainly working up a sweat in the 80 degree, high humidity weather.

The women in the crowd screamed for Hansen, whose rather tight outfit made it clear that he aimed to please (he even held a bra on stage for a while before turning it over to a confused Tom Gimbel). Foreigner’s show was a workout from beginning to end. At least a slow paced “I Want to Know What Love Is” provided a slight break for Hansen and the rest of the band as the audience was able to share some of the singing duties.

In addition to all those classics, Foreigner came with new material to test out on fans. “Can’t Slow Down,” the band’s new title track and a prime example of old-meets-new rock was played, along with the more adult contemporary flavored “In Pieces”.

Expectations were built high for the finale of “Jukebox Hero”; those thumping drums and keyboard riffs never get old. In fact, none of the music produced by Styx, Kansas, or Foreigner seems to get old. Why else do people still gather in droves to hear the same songs they’ve heard on the radio a hundred times before? It’s because the music lives on, no matter how much time may pass. And since the very musicians who wrote and played those songs are still touring with enthusiasm that never fades, we might as well join in on the fun.


 

 

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Comments

  1. Posted by Kris on June 14th, 2010, 16:40 [Reply]

    Nice pics Matt! Some really good shots of Tommy and your reviews are always entertaining.

  2. Posted by Rileah on June 14th, 2010, 21:40 [Reply]

    Fantastic review and a great read about some of my long-time favorite bands. I’ve followed Styx (and TS) since the late 70′s and it’s true, he still silngs like he did all those years ago. More depth, more richness add so much to those great songs. Superb pix!!

  3. Posted by Allan on June 15th, 2010, 14:23 [Reply]

    Same show the night before in Virginia Beach. This will NEVER get old! Rock on!

  4. Posted by Dayle on June 15th, 2010, 23:51 [Reply]

    Thank you for such a thorough and well-written review! Styx just keeps getting better and better, and it’s especially heartening to see a positive media review.

  5. Posted by Mike on June 21st, 2010, 22:02 [Reply]

    Great Review, really appreciate the depth of your insight.
    Refreshing to hear this as I will be seeing them Friday in Indy. :-)
    You keep up the great work!

  6. Posted by Sue on June 22nd, 2010, 20:29 [Reply]

    We were at this show as well and guessing right near you by the looks of the pics. Great photos you took! You forgot a couple things. I’ve been to a few Foreigner and Styx Concerts. Kelly Hanson is always off the stage and into the audience. He loves doing that! He also nearly got stranded and I was in reach of pushing his butt back up on stage but two of the security came and lifted him back up.

    This year the venue also did something different. We were told by one of the security it was at the request of the bands. They wanted JUST the first row people up front. They did NOT want the first few rows or people cutting through in front of the stage. They made the first row put on armbands. The first 38 people were the ones allowed to get up close and nobody else. We were 37 and 38 and consider ourselves fortunate. Ricky Phillips gave us picks and Tommy Shaw was looking right down at us during one song. Great stuff.

    You are so right about Kelly Hanson’s energy. Also about them all sounding very good. Not all bands always do. But I’ve been to several Styx, Foreigner and Kansas concerts. All were great (save one Kansas gig at the 16th street stage a few years back during American Music Fest).

    Lastly, it was GREAT seeing Chuck Panozzo, original member, playing alongside Tommy. I enjoyed that a lot.

    If anyone gets a chance to see them, take it. It’s well worth it.

  7. Posted by wayne on August 13th, 2011, 21:04 [Reply]

    These bands are sorry pretenders. Without the genius of Dennis DeYoung and the amazing vocals of
    Lou Gramm these bands can only be deemed watered down. Sorry, guys. The vocalist makes the band.

  8. Posted by Will Dixon on August 22nd, 2011, 18:00 [Reply]

    Wayne, so sorry my friend for feeling this way. Just saw Styx at the Sturgis Rally in SD. This was my 7th time to see them. I love Styx with DeYoung and had the same thought that you did, how can they be better? They were better and get better every time I see them. More energy and they sing different songs that are away from the ballads that made them a top 40 band. Anytime they come within 300 miles of Rapid City I will be there. Best live rock band ever!

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