The question you must ask yourself when you are buying tickets to a concert like last night's United We Rock Tour stop at Starlight with Foreigner, Styx and special guest Kansas: Am I actually getting tickets to a glorified tribute band show?
And then: Do I even care?
An alarming amount of legacy acts from the vinyl era possess only one or two founding members, one of whom, presumably, holds legal rights to the band's name. The other members are a blend of younger journeymen and older rockers from bands that never quite made it. In an increasingly common case (see: Yes), the replacement singer was a vocal mimic from a tribute band discovered on YouTube.
Earlier this morning, as I was writing this, a host on KCFX 101.1 the Fox, addressed this very issue. He openly complained about how, for him, last night "wasn't Foreigner." Direct quote: "You take away the lead singer, you take away the heart of the band."
Then again, is it less painful to see an unfamiliar stand-in than to watch a once-beloved rock idol, his body ravaged by too many years of lickin' it up, his face a waxen approximation of itself, his voice not what it once was?
Notice how many tours of late have been canceled due to frontman injury? Who will the Edge get to replace Bono when U2 is eventually on the state fair circuit? If you're an obsessive, controlling parent, forget American Idol. Begin grooming your kids now for spots in dying legacy acts!
In any case, the absence of original frontmen Lou Gramm (Foreigner) and Dennis DeYoung (Styx) didn't deter fans from buying out nearly all the tickets to last night's KCFX-sponsored show. (A few middle-tier, $61-level seats remained when I arrived.)
The crowd at Starlight was mostly white, skewing old but with quite a few members of Generations Y and "i," all united in an affection for classic rock radio, self included.
And it's kind of heartbreaking that I missed all but the last song of Kansas' early 7 p.m. set. The crowd went crazy for "Carry On Wayward Son," though, and promoter Jeff Fortier said the band (which contains original singer Steve Walsh but not original guitarist and hit-writer Kerry Livgren) "killed it." If you caught Kansas, by all means, riff on it in the comments.
The remaining two acts painted contrasting portraits of aging rockers. One was graceful and even admirable, the other was hokesville.
With caramel tans, blazing-white teeth, feathered Farah-Fawcett hair and a collective wardrobe that landed somewhere between Wall Street (the 1987 movie) and Rivendell (the elven stronghold in Middle Earth), the men of Styx carried a visual form of anti-tribute-band insurance: No impostors would ever out-snazz these cats.
Styx's hourlong set seemed crippled by its opener status. Going in, I thought Styx and Foreigner were pretty much co-headlining. Not the case. Both had the same dot-matrix video screen showing disturbingly cheap stock animations to illustrate their respective hits, but Styx played during daylight and on a smaller stage setup -- whereas Foreigner had giant ramps to nowhere, Styx's set was endowed merely with a couple of tiny staircases.
Though given Styx's strange lack of charisma, the order in which it played may not have mattered. (Kansas, after all, totally rocked it.) Without DeYoung, Styx looks like an unmoored backup band. Sonically, the band was accurate. The voices of sole original member James "JY" Young, longtime member Tommy Shaw and relative newcomer Lawrence Gowan all sounded as BeeGeelike as ever.
Taking a prancing leave from his revolving keyboard stand, the pointy-booted Gowan nailed the lead on "Lady." Yet despite the song's classic status -- not to mention the fact that it was only the fourth song of the set -- the crowd decided to sit down, setting a precedent that would carry throughout the show, signaling, sadly, collective boredom.
But except for a godawful "Miss America" (in which Young morphed into a perverse approximation of James Hetfield) and a cover of the one hit by Shaw's other well-known band, Damn Yankees, Styx's greatest hits set was solid, though Mr. Roboto was conspicuously absent.
Foreigner saved the evening -- and proved the Fox morning show jock wrong. First of all, here's Lou Gramm, OK? You're welcome.
Replacement wailer Kelly Hansen has ripped out Gramm's voice and put it in Steven Tyler's gourd-sized jaws and willowy frame. (By the way, one thing just about everyone did remarkably well on stage last night: squeezed into tight pants like champs. To hell with being able to remember my children's names. If I can look that good in stretchpants when I'm those guys' age, I'll consider my senior citizenhood a success.) Despite cutting his sizable chompers in a band nobody has heard of, Hansen worked the crowd like a pro, more than making up for sole foreigner and only remaining original member Mick Jones' low mobility.
But most of all, Foreigner's music kicks ass. Styx is for drinking chablis and reorganizing the coat closet. Foreigner is for fucking. Ignore the fancy keyboards and occasional sax -- Foreigner's riffs are big and dumb and the lyrics are desperate and horny.
That's the hits, anyway. A couple of songs off the new, Walmart-exclusive album, Can't Slow Down, went over like instant tranquilizer on the crowd. But from opener "Double Vision" to epic closer "Juke Box Hero," Foreigner shot from the groin.
The sextet also brought just enough regular-guy appeal (most apparent in bassist Jeff Pilson's sweaty flannel shirt) to demonstrate to those of us still blinded by Styx's artificially shining teeth what aging gracefully really means.
Styx set list
Too Much Time on My Hands
Can You Take Me Higher
Suite Madame Blue
Come Sail Away
Blue Collar Man
Foreigner set list
Cold As Ice
Can't Slow Down (new)
Dirty White Boy
Feels Like the First Time
I Want to Know What Love Is