Onward and upward with my chronological journey through my concert-going career...
6) Styx (Monday, March 16, 1981—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $10.50
Styx had been local KC favorites for years, and they became superstars with Paradise Theater in early ‘81, probably their best album ever (along with The Grand Illusion from ’77). Anticipating high ticket-demand for this show, the promoter decided to put them up for sale all in one location, which was not revealed until an hour beforehand on a cold Saturday morning in January. Tom and I stood in line for over two hours on the snow-packed concourse of Arrowhead Stadium (jeez, fellas, ya think you could’ve at least shoveled the blasted sidewalks for this) and we snagged three pretty good tickets on the lower level of Kemper straight back from the stage. The third member of our party wigged out and didn’t attend with us, but later claimed he was there and made up some story about meeting Tommy Shaw in a limo after the show. This guy was flakier than a Pillsbury pie crust, thus he soon became our ex-friend, but I digress…
When I informed my old man that morning before school where I’d be that night, he says, “Styx? Isn’t that one of those queer groups?” Oy! Meantime, by late in the afternoon, I started feeling really draggy, for some reason. I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t even choke down a McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries for dinner, and as the night wore on, I got sicker, but I somehow still managed to enjoy the show. Turns out I had come down with a nasty little stomach virus that laid me up for the rest of the week.
There was no opening act for this show (or for their 1983 show that we also attended), which was kinda nice in one way—no need to sit through some lame group you didn’t want to see anyway, right? On the other hand, Dennis DeYoung and the boys must’ve forgotten that they were a young band once who opened for other groups who “made the grade” (as a certain Styx song goes), like Kiss, and prior to them, David Bowie, for whom Styx opened during their very first KC appearance in 1972 at Memorial Hall over on the Kansas side. This was also Styx' 15th straight concert sellout in K.C. in the wake of that show with Bowie.
Using the Paradise Theater LP’s semi-conceptual theme as a backdrop, this turned out to be a splendid concert all the way around. Highlights included their biggies like “Lady”, “Miss America” and “Blue Collar Man”, as well as new stuff like "Rockin' The Paradise” and the new single “Too Much Time On My Hands”. DeYoung acted as the emcee for the most part, which was great on some levels, like when he introduced “Suite Madame Blue” by saying it was a song he wrote “about how I felt about things that were going on in America at the time,” but rather hokey on other levels when he pandered to the crowd with some story about doing a soundcheck earlier and saying, “there was something missing—YOU people were missing!” James Young and Tommy Shaw traded solos throughout the night, twin brothers Chuck and John Panozzo provided a rock-solid rhythm section, and DeYoung multi-tasked on the keys. By the time they got to “Come Sail Away”, everyone in the arena was on their feet, including sickly ol’ me, and this was most definitely Styx’s finest hour. Little did we/they know it was all downhill after this for them…
Just as an aside, Tom also decided to live on the edge a little by smuggling in a small tape recorder at the concert to document the proceedings (á la Rerun at the Doobie Bros. gig on TV's "What's Happening!"—remember that one, kids?). Relax, Dennis, J.Y., Tommy, whoever—the tape was of poor quality and wouldn’t have produced a decent bootleg recording anyway. I don't think the tape even exists anymore.
7) Rush (Friday, April 24, 1981—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $10.00
I must confess here that I did not like Rush at first. I couldn’t get into their album-side-long sci-fi epics, and they just didn’t impress me much, despite the constant raves my older sister kept giving them. She and her husband lived in Lynchburg, VA for a time in the late ‘70s, and they attended a couple Rush shows in nearby Roanoke and she swore they were the cat’s ass in concert. When “The Spirit of Radio” came out in late ’79, I started to warm up to Rush a little, and they won me over for good with Moving Pictures, which was one of the best albums of 1981. The concert Tom and I had tickets for was the second of a two-night stand in K.C., and all I heard at school that day was how awesome the first show had been from those who attended the night before, so we were primed for a really killer show. Unfortunately, we didn’t get one…
As with Styx the month before, there was no opening act on this night. Now, I wasn’t expecting the animated pyrotechnics of Kiss or Van Halen here, but I anticipated something a bit more lively than this very flat performance from Rush. The music didn’t sound all that far-removed from their records (a problem that has plagued Rush off and on throughout their career), and Geddy Lee hardly said two words to the audience between songs all night—a BIG no-no with me. Guitarist Alex Lifeson didn't really seem very into the show, either, for some reason. From where we sat in the upper deck at Kemper on stage left, the show wasn’t very loud at all—we could actually converse with each other without screaming. Probably the highlight of the show was Neil Peart’s very entertaining drum solo, and it was also kinda fun to watch Lee multi-task on the bass, keyboards, foot pedals and lead vocals, but overall, it just wasn’t a very exciting concert. The crowd was a tad rude, too, as a few assholes kept shooting off fireworks during the set. While I hesitate to call this the worst concert I’ve ever attended, it was certainly a big disappointment after all the build-up it got—cranking up their live album on my stereo at home would’ve been more satisfying. Then again, every band has an off-night during a long tour, so I'll give Rush the benefit of the doubt and assume that was the case here.
7) Z.Z. Top/Loverboy (Thursday, August 13, 1981—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $9.50
Prior to 1981, I was just as casual Z.Z. Top fan. I loved "Tush" and "Cheap Sunglasses" and a couple others, and when El Loco came out with the irresistible "Tube Snake Boogie" and "Pearl Necklace", I decided to check out That Little Ol' Band From Texas in concert. It was on this hot August night that I became a fan for life.
Loverboy opened the proceedings with one of the better warm-up sets I've ever seen. They were still running on inertia from their first album from the year before and the hit "Turn Me Loose" (a highlight of their set), and their second LP Get Lucky had just come out, so they were a crowd-pleaser. The late Scott Smith was a standout on bass (esp. during "Turn Me Loose"), as was keyboardist Doug Johnson.
Meanwhile, as we waited for Z.Z. Top between sets, the girl sitting next to me let out a scream, and all of sudden, there's some stupid drunk fuck stumbling through our row on the lower level all bloodied in the face. Someone said he'd fallen out of the upper deck (which at Kemper is only about a 15-foot drop) into the aisle next to us and was all dazed. The fucker dripped blood all over my newly-purchased Z.Z. Top program, too. Dumbass...
Once we got the stupidity out of the way, Z.Z. lumbered onto the stage in dirty coveralls just like in the above photo, opening with what I think was "Groovy Little Hippie Pad" off El Loco (memory is a little fuzzy here), then they launched into "Waitin' For The Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago", which made the Kemper rafters rumble. It was hard to believe that it was just three guys creating all this wonderful rhythmic noise. Highlights were many, including "Manic Mechanic", "Arrested For Driving While Blind", "Heard It On The X" and "Cheap Sunglasses", the latter of which was augmented by a snappy little lazer show. I was really pleased that they leaned heavily on El Loco—my favorite Z.Z. Top album ever—by playing seven of the ten tracks from it. For the encore, maracas were lowered on ropes down to Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill just for intro of "Tube Snake Boogie", which they followed up with "La Grange" and "Tush" to wrap things up. This was the first in a long line of Z.Z. Top shows on this little journey...
9) Pat Benatar/David Johansen (Saturday, October 10, 1981—Municipal Auditorium) Ticket price: $9.50
Boy, did this little lady come along and steal the heart of every guy my age back in 1980-81! She was sexy, talented and to top it off, she rocked-out too. Seeing her in the videos was one thing, but we weren't quite sure what to expect of her in concert, like would her voice be able to penetrate that huge wall of amps? Well that issue was settled once and for all during "Promises In The Dark" when Pat sang that ascending line in mid-song, "...but your heart says try again," and she came through loud and clear on that high note.
Dressed in a black-and-gold leotard, black tights and black ankle boots, the former Miss Andrejewski and her very tight band opened with "No You Don't" (a cover of a Sweet tune), and played an excellent set covering all three Benatar albums that were available at the time. Guitarist/husband Neil Giraldo impressed me a lot that night and played well, despite having a cast on his right (playing) hand. Drummer Myron Grombacher was/is one of the more animated players I've ever seen—he was hopping up and down behind his kit throughout the show, and I thought someone would have to strap him to his drum stool. But for obvious reasons, it was the devine Ms. Benatar that my eyes were riveted on most of the night in her sexy stage attire. As the review in the K.C. Star by Nancy Ball read, "...and in this spandex age it's sort of refreshing to see the woman wearing the tights in the band instead of the men."
The less said about the opening act, David Johansen, the better. Ol' Dave was in career limbo at this point between his New York Dolls persona and his future asinine Buster Poindexter shtick (both of which were pathetic), and he absolutely sucked like a Hoover upright that night. He spent half of his set putting funny hats on his bandmates, one of whom was keyboardist Charlie Giordano, who we would see Benatar's band on the next tour--a major upgrade for young Chuck, I dare say.
10) Van Halen/G-Force (Saturday, October 17, 1981—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $10.00
Exactly one week after Pat Benatar, it was Van Halen, Round Two, which was every bit as fun as our maiden voyage with them, if not moreso, as this time VH was touring for a much better album, the very underrated Fair Warning. The videos the band shot on that same tour for "Unchained", "Hear About It Later" and "So This Is Love" are very representative of the show I saw that night at Kemper.
It was once again an outstanding evening, apart from me losing my newly-bought VH t-shirt somewhere between the arena and the car, which I thought was draped over my shoulder. D'oh! In best Van Halen tradition, their opening act was the totally nameless/faceless G-Force. The only thing I remember about them was they were very techno-pop-ish—a very poor man's A Flock Of Seagulls, if there is such a thing. One would guess they probably broke up not long afterwards.Other highlights included David Lee Roth trotting out his new toy, the "Dave-sickle", an acoustic guitar in the shape of a popsicle that he used for the intro to "Ice Cream Man", and I believe this tour also saw the debut of Michael Anthony's infamous Jack Daniels bass guitar. Eddie was Eddie, of course, and his finger-tapping intro runs on "Mean Street" really got the joint jumpin'. Alex was Alex too, and after swigging down some liquor prior to his drum solo, DLR proclaimed (totally in jest), "Let's hear it for Alex Van Halen...and his drinking problem!" Sad to say what a prophetic statement this turned out to be years later. Anyway, Big Al's drum solo was the first one I've ever seen that featured all four band members playing simultaneously. Another highlight was Diamond Dave's between-song rap about music critics: "The guy who reviews this concert in the paper probably looks like Elvis Costello..."