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Backstage News, Front Row Pics

Styx, Foreigner and Don Felder School the Windy City in How Rock -n- Roll Is Done Right

 

Styx

Styx

By Alyce Hayes 

Foreigner

Foreigner

The man to my left was playing his air guitar like there was no tomorrow, and the man to my right was marinated in the scent of Busch Light (or Bud Light, or some other equally…predictable…beer) as he yelled lyrics and clapped completely off-rhythm.  Meanwhile, security guards were calmly stopping concert-goers from trying to cross the front row to “get to their seats” (with their camera phones ready for a quick photo, of course).  I mentally ticked off the number of times I heard the words, “Sorry, VIP only. Go around.” In the midst of all of these [mild] shenanigans, Kelly Hansen ~ lead singer of Foreigner ~ was running around the pavilion with Steven Tyler-like exuberance during a guitar solo courtesy of Mick Jones. He then hopped back onto the stage and belted out a three-measures-long note on the higher end of his range, immediately putting my own lung power to shame.

The highly anticipated Soundtrack to Summer tour with Styx, Foreigner and Don Felder had finally hit the city, and it seemed like the entire population was in attendance. This, my friends, was one seriously rocking concert.

Don Felder

Don Felder

Don Felder, famed lead guitarist of the Eagles, opened up the show with timeless hits including “Witchy Woman,” “Already Gone,” “Heartache Tonight,” and, of course, “Heavy Metal.”

Don Felder

Don Felder

In Felder’s words, if you had seen the 80s film of the same name, “…you weren’t high enough.” I’d have to agree (even though it’s totally in my Netflix favorites). The audience (especially a group of women in the very front who were leaning against the barricade, dancing and singing along to every song Felder and his band played), went wild for the performance…and then went into excitement overdrive when Felder finished off his set by bringing Tommy Shaw (of Styx) out to perform “Hotel California.” When they played the iconic guitar duet ~ as flawlessly as in the original recording of the peerless, epic, unforgettable song ~ the entire crowd erupted into thunderous applause. It had begun…veterans of the music scene showing us that the songwriting, musicianship, and incredible energy of arena rock lives on with them.

Foreigner

Foreigner

The first headliner to grace the stage (and I don’t use the word “grace” lightly ~ being in the presence of these bands who, to use a corny but accurate phrase, touched so many lives and were such an integral part of shaping the musical landscape for decades ~ and who are still relevant today ~ truly was an honor) was Foreigner (Kelly Hansen on vocals, Mick Jones, Thom Gimbel and Bruce Watson on guitars, Jeff Pilson on bass, Chris Frazier on drums, Michael Bluestein on keys). Before the set even began, everyone was on their feet, cheering and near cardiac arrest from the anticipation of waiting for the band to take to the stage.  And when they did take the stage, starting the set off with “Double Vision,” their energy could have powered a small city.

Foreigner

Foreigner

To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from their performance.  I knew that the music would be practically flawless ~ when you’ve been around for almost four decades and have played countless shows and turned out one huge hit after another, you’re gonna know your sh*t ~ but what about their stage presence?  Would time have taken its toll?  My question seemed absurd even before they had launched into “Double Vision” and continued on through hits like “Cold As Ice,” “Hot-blooded,” “Feels like the First Time,” and “Juke Box Hero;” even after playing these hits for so many years, the band performed each one with enough enthusiasm and energy to fool anyone into thinking they were debuting a new track (it really DID feel like the first time!), but with the precision that only repetition and a genuine love for their music could produce.

Foreigner’s vitality permeated every note of every song ~ and everyone familiar with Foreigner’s body of work knows that nothing less than a deep-rooted fire in the band’s gut could do their classics justice.

Foreigner ~ with special appearance by Mick Jones (L)

Foreigner ~ with special appearance by Mick Jones (L)

When music veteran/icon Mick Jones, founder and original lead guitarist of the band, was introduced, it was obvious that, despite still recovering from medical issues, he was, without a doubt, having a great time ~ I don’t think anyone in the crowd doubted that the same fire still burns in Mick, too.   His joy at being on stage with his former bandmates was touching and utterly contagious.

Foreigner

Foreigner

Musical prowess of the highest order?  Check.  Songs that were so well-written that they have remained favorites for decades?  Check.  The ability to make the stage come alive and the walls shake?  Check.  The art of fan interaction? Check ~ these seasoned pros have it mastered. Pilson was especially keen on getting the audience into the groove (not that we needed any help) and fully immersed in the music, and Hansen was all about taking our already impressive noise level and giving us reason to rock out even harder. During their encore, he had the entire pavilion singing the chorus to “I Want to Know What Love Is” with more feeling than I’d seen an audience put into a sing-along maybe ever, and he even brought out a local high school choir to join in on the ballad.

Styx (with special appearance by Chuck Panozzo)

Styx (with special appearance by Chuck Panozzo, center)

Needless to say, when it came time for Styx (Lawrence Gowan on keys and vocals, J.Y. Young and Tommy Shaw on guitar and vocals, Todd Sucherman on drums and Ricky Phillips on bass) to rock, we were more than fired up. They started out with “The Grand Illusion,” a perfect introduction to the set.

Styx

Styx

Their performance really stood out for me because of the way they played together. Sadly, long-gone are the days when it was standard for guitarists to play to each other, or vocalists to interact with the bassist or drummer during a “jam’ in the middle of the song. But when Styx was on stage, those days made a cameo appearance, reminding us of how much seeing those connections between band members can add to a show ~ transform it, really. Throughout the show, as they played chart-toppers like “Too Much Time on my Hands,” “Fooling Yourself,” Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” and “Come Sail Away,” we witnessed how a seamless bond amongst musicians ~ one that could only be created by their years together dedicated to perfecting their skills both live and in the studio ~ can turn what would otherwise be “just a show” into a sensational concert experience.  And when bassist Chuck Panozzo (like Mick, also dealing with medical issues) appeared to play on certain songs, the connection was just as enveloped him as well. Today’s bands and musicians, no matter whether unknown or hugely popular, can learn so much just by watching these talented artists perform live. They possess a level of wisdom and confidence that is rarely displayed today, and it’s because of their dedication to showmanship, professionalism, quality, and the preservation of the concept that a band must be in a sense a brotherhood to put on a performance that is the most enjoyable it can be for performer and observer alike.

Styx

Styx

As was the case with Foreigner, the Styx set had many highlights, but when Tommy Shaw played a guitar solo while walking around the pavilion, well, that topped them all. The audience was fanatical, reaching out to him as he played through the commotion as if he were the only one in the room. Lawrence Gowan also contributed a high point of the set by playing a medley of classic rock songs on the piano ~ The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What you Want,” Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and Pink Floyd’s “Brick in the Wall” ~ inspiring us all to sing along. His medley was a stellar example of how timeless music ~ including that of Styx, Foreigner and Don Felder ~ can be.  The ticket-holders in the crowd around me were not of one specific demographic; they ranged from eight year-olds to senior citizens, represented a variety of ethnic (and I’m guessing financial) backgrounds, and the majority of us were singing every word of their songs.

Styx

Styx

This amazing night was another testament to the significance and staying power of incredible music and mastery of performance. I’m sure these artists, already legends in their own time and with staggering back catalogues, will continue to tour and create more enduring songs that have the ability to touch the hearts of many, from grandparents to grandchildren (and get them amped up as well ~ it’s not all about the serious stuff, let’s not forget that we’re talking about some killer rock n roll here, too!).   Don Felder, Foreigner, and Styx exemplified the true meaning of “Music brings us together.”

Styx with Chuck Panozzo

Styx with Chuck Panozzo



Don Felder

Foreigner

Styx


 

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