With the summer concert season getting into full swing, another summer tour was kicked off at FivePoint Amphitheater in Irvine. Wednesday, May 30th, saw the initial date on the Styx and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts summer tour, with special guests Tesla. Between the three of them, they commanded a 15 year span, with each dominating a five-year segment, of FM rock radio saturation. Styx, with its breakthrough album, The Grand Illusion, in 1977 ending with their 1983 release Kilroy Was Here. Jett and her Blackhearts had a string of hits, most notably, I Love Rock ‘n Roll between 1981 and 1988. Tesla, splashed on to the scene in 1987 with their debut album Mechanical Resonance and remained in heavy FM rotation through the life cycle of 1991’s Psychotic Supper. This timeline of radio and later video supremacy made this a particularly attractive bill for anyone who came of age in the late 70’s through the early 80’s.
Tesla, the quintet formed in Sacramento, California is the opening act. They present a seven tune production, laden with songs from their first two albums. Jeff Keith epitomizes their brand of gritty hard rock. His gravelly sweet voice accentuates the dual layer guitar from original member Frank Hannon and newest member Dave Rude, who joined the band in 2006. Despite various incarnations of the group, Rude is the one exception to their present-day classic lineup. The second half of the set begins with their 1990 cover of Signs, originally recorded live on their Five Man Acoustical Jam record. This seems to resonate with the early arrivals to the show as they cumulatively bark out the “Uuhhhh!” that precedes the guitar solo. Brian Wheat, bass, mounts the steps of the drum riser frequently when he is not providing background vocals. From his perch, higher on the stage, he can seemingly interplay more easily with drummer Troy Luccketta. They turn up the intensity incrementally with each of the last three tunes. Love Song which begins with the melancholy guitar intro from Hannon, is a crowd favorite. Next to last is the upbeat and springy Little Suzi, the breakout hit off their debut album. The last song of their evening is Modern Day Cowboy with its signature chorus intro of “Bang bang!” to which the spectators become participants. Playing nothing off of Psychotic Supper is a bit of a disappointment, as it seems their set length finds them just settling into a groove, when their time is up.
Joan Jett ascends the stage at a few minutes after eight o’clock. She fills her 50 minute slot with one, three-minute ditty after another. Her current Blackhearts, Dougie Needles, lead guitar, Hal Selzer, bass and 30 year band alum, Thommy Price, drums, do a nice job of reproducing the feel of her 1980’s hits. Jett and crew performed their latest single, Fresh Start, which accompanies their recently released documentary film, Bad Reputation.
The gloomy skies of the day turn to intermittent drizzle by the time Styx begins their performance. Each member appears individually from high behind the drum riser and descend to the stage. After the opening number, Gone Gone Gone off the 2017 release, The Mission, Styx begins its odyssey through the classics. Lawrence Gowan, keyboards and lead vocals fingers out the intro to Blue Collar Man. Tommy Shaw, guitar and lead vocals sings the lead and plays to the crowd with his guitar solo. Next up, the title track to the album that projected them to super-stardom, The Grand Illusion. On this number, Gowan, has his spinning keyboard platform turned toward the back of the stage, so he can preside over the tune like a ringmaster.
Sandwiched in between two more songs from the newest album, Radio Silence and The Outpost, both of which are well received and sound like a natural evolution for the band, James “JY” Young takes lead vocals on the rocking Miss America. Young is the elder statesman of the band, along with part-time performer and original member, Chuck Panozzo, who joins the festivities on Fooling Youself. Panozzo, whose brother, John was the original drummer for Styx, typically participates with the rest of his band mates for three songs at each show he plays. Speaking of drummers, Todd Sucherman, the only other person to man the kit for Styx, aptly emulates the stylings of his predecessor with the signature rolls which are such a trademark of the Styx sound. Gowan plays Khedive, a piano piece from The Mission, which eventually leads to the intro to Come Sail Away. Panozzo rejoins the group for the finale and along with Ricky Phillips, there is double the bass for this one. Upon their return to the stage, Styx surprises the attendees with the rarely played, Mr. Roboto, which is an undeniable treat. Last is the staple of their set, Renegade which begins with Shaw singing the lamenting lyrics and Sucherman’s bass drum heartbeats. Renegade is a classic example of a Styx rocker and closes the show with cannons blasting confetti from both sides of the stage which is an incredible visual. Styx does not hold themselves back from touring. A Styx show is not exactly an “event,” akin to a reunion tour of a long disbanded super group, but, they may be some of the hardest working guys in rock and manage to consistently put out a solidly entertaining product. Who says there’s anything wrong with being a blue-collar man?
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