Ladies and gentleman, it is officially summer! It’s been a brain melter and what better time for air conditioning AND a rock n’ roll show! Even though on the surface these bands couldn’t be any more different, they seemed to symbolize the many sides of the quintessential “classic” rock n’ roll band. Tesla were the schmoozers, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts were the rebels, and Styx were the bombastic virtuosos. Needless to say, there was no way any self-respecting rock fan could have left the night less than satisfied.
Admittingly the minute I heard Tesla, I thought I was listening to an Aerosmith cover-band. It wasn’t until further research that I found out that they’ve been performing original material since 1981! Even though there was nothing unique about their set, these guys have clearly done their homework and gave it everything they had. Jeff Keith has that Steven Tyler raspy scream down to an absolute science and guitarists Frank Hannon around Dave Rude were letting their hair out (literally) like the 80s had never left us. Despite the die-hard fans, it was clear that the audience was waiting for the two headliners. Still, I suggest checking Tesla out further if you need a little bit more sleazy hard rock in your diet.
The next act really needs no introduction whatsoever. Joan Jett is one of the rare few who perfectly understands what it means to play pure, straight to the point rock and roll. Her live show naturally reflects this. There was just no bullshit. Joan Jett and The Blackhearts pretty much played their greatest hits collection with interjections of stories of the adversity and opposition that came with the creation of each song. Keyboardist/producer Kenny Laguna was the narrator, and as likeable as he was, I would have loved to hear Jett tell it. Arguably though, that isn’t Joan’s style. She clearly lets the music do the talking, and boy did she! Jett was told a woman fronting a rock band would never work. Anyone watching her set that night would realize how fucking stupid that is.
At nearly sixty, she kicked most young rockers asses. I got shivers when I heard the opening power chords to “Bad Reputation.” She then followed with “Cherry Bomb!” Fuck man, that’s enough to cause a rock and roll overdose! Thankfully we all lived and every song was met with thunderous clapping, even never heard before “Fresh Start,” which didn’t feel out of place whatsoever. Mass hysteria, however, was reserved for heavy hitters “I Love Rock and Roll” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You.” By the time it came to the encores, I felt we had been spoilt. The band gave a bow and the crowd responded with a standing ovation. It didn’t feel forced or obligatory. How else do you respond to a set that epic?
I’m in no way a big Styx fan. They are just one of those bands that straddles the line between respectability and a profound lameness. How else can you explain the ridiculousness of “Mr. Roboto” AND the face melting riffage of “Renegade?” The thing is though… they fucking KICK ASS as a live band! Don’t get me wrong, this is not a show that will reach you on an emotional level but man, is it one hell of spectacle! What makes it especially rewarding is that the band seems in on the joke and just wanted to have a shit ton of fun with their fans. Not all of it worked, especially any of the songs from their hokey new concept album The Mission. Thankfully, the setlist revolved more around their biggest album The Grand Illusion. “Come Sail Away” and the title track were obviously met with grand enthusiasm.
The most valuable performer had to go to the extremely hard working front-man, Lawrence Gowan. He was so bloody fantastic I couldn’t help but think “Dennis DeWho?” At first, I thought the dude was ridiculously hammy with dance moves ripped directly from the Bruce Springsteen “Dancing In The Dark” music video but he won me over with his boundless energy, mind-blowing singing range, and virtuoso piano chops. His mesmerizing 360 rotating piano platform certainly contributed to his larger than life persona. He was also responsible for the most spine-tingling moment of the night. The second he broke out into a Styx cover of Gowan’s own “A Criminal Mind” the crowd went apeshit! I had never heard the song before but the sheer passion and pain that he put into the performance deeply resonated with me, which is NOT what you expect at a Styx show. Even guitarist Tommy Shaw yelled “LARRY!” in admiration when the song ended.
The obligatory “Mr. Roboto” sounded really phoned in, and I couldn’t help but wonder whose idea it was to play it? It’s well documented that only Denis Deyoung ever liked the song, but I guess maybe they felt they ought to finally play one of their biggest hits even if their former lead singer wrote it. It was “Renegade” that really acted as the night’s final showstopper, which really is how it should be. Honestly, even though summer has just begun, I don’t know if I’ll see a better roster of performers. There was just a perfect mix of theatrics, classics songs and beyond respectable musicianship. It was almost enough to make me forget about the deadly humidity that awaited me outside the venue.
Written by Shawn Thicke
Photography by Eric Brisson Photography
*edited by Danielle Kenedy