Styx/Foreigner/Kansas: River Center Arena, Baton Rouge, LA 05/13/10

And here you were thinking the glory days of Arena Rock were long gone.

The mullets have become a bit grayer and the lighters have turned into cell phone screens swaying high in the air, but the music has survived intact; for the most part. In fact, after listening to Styx slam-bang out a set of songs from their very successful past, it has actually gotten stronger.

Talking with other concertgoers before and after the show, it looks as if Styx has never lost a fan. EVER. Their legion is so strong and so loyal, the fans travel to see them anywhere and everywhere, shell out ever increasing prices to see them over and over again, and from what I heard, have never been disappointed in a show. EVER. That says a lot about this band.

Just kicking off the UNITED IN ROCK tour, the three bands, who all used to headline sold out arena shows back in the day, are bringing with them a ton of energy, songs that you know by heart and sing out loud every time they come on the radio, and the possibility to be 16 once again … for those who were actually 16 in the 1970’s.

Kansas got things started with their special blend of synthy rock. Looking a bit weathered and worn, they jumped right into “Point Of No Return” and kept going straight through such hits as “Hold On”, “Carry On Wayward Son” and crowd favorite “Dust In The Wind”. Original vocalist Steve Walsh came out from behind the keys a few times to sing up front, original guitarist Richard Williams gave a particularly fine solo on “Icarus”, while violinist David Ragsdale was a sparkplug with his high velocity playing. Overall, it was a more sedate show than I was expecting.

But then Styx hit the stage running and never slowed down. Opening with a musical melody featuring a snippet of “Mr Roboto” before barreling into “The Grand Illusion”, it was as if you were thrown back to the mid-70’s head first. They came to rock and rock they did. No one sat down, no one stopped singing. They had that much power over the crowd.

“Too Much Time On My Hands”, “Lady”, “Lorelei”, “Fooling Yourself”, “Miss America”, “Suite Madam Blue”, the hits just kept coming. At about the mid-point, Tommy Shaw started talking about watching a late night show the night before: “You know, the one that plays MONSTER BALLADS”, he said, mimicking an overenthusiastic announcer. Recognizing one of his own hits, he decided he wanted to play it for everyone and the band lit into the Damn Yankees’ “High Enough”.

James Young loved soaking up all the adulation, going from one side of the stage to the other, smiling and at times hamming it up. His interaction with Tommy seemed to be genuine, and his vocals on “Lorelei” and “Miss America” were spirited.

Before going into a crowd pleasing “Come Sail Away”, vocalist Lawrence Gowan asked “What is the mark of a true classic? … just a few notes …” and after a sing-a-long of famous choruses including Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” and of all things “Oh Susanna”, they finished up their set at warp speed.

The crowd still screamed and stomped for more. And the encore of “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade” was blisteringly fun. Lots of picks were flicked out, the beach balls were flying and after a group bow, they threw out lots of band-logoed merchandise.

Foreigner was equally as energetic, playing so many big hits from the illustrious Lou Gramm era. Could you tell the difference? Not really. Former Hurricane vocalist Kelly Hansen, looking and prancing like a young Steven Tyler, could easily be mistaken for the former Foreigner singer. I just don’t think Lou ever had this much energy.

Although the sound was not-so-great for the first few songs, it worked itself out and ended up being a fine show of rocking proportions: “Double Vision”, “Head Games”, “Cold As Ice”, “Can’t Slow Down”, “Dirty White Boy”, “In Pieces”, “Starrider”, “Feels Like The First Time”, “Urgent” and “Juke Box Hero”, all before an encore of “I Want To Know What Love Is”, featuring members of local Catholic High and St. Joseph’s Academy choirs, and “Hot Blooded”.

Highlights included original member Mick Jones doing a wild solo on “Starrider”, a long “Juke Box Hero”, and Jeff Pilson on bass. A former member of Dokken, Jeff was head-banging, swinging hair and running up and down the stage like he was 20 and not 51.

Enough just cannot be said about bands who have stood the test of time. Ladies and gentlemen, we have found the fountain of youth.

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