Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Concert #114

Styx/R.E.O. Speedwagon/Ted Nugent (Friday, May 10, 2013—Starlight Theater) Ticket price: $24.75

I wasn’t initially planning to attend this concert featuring three of Kansas City’s all-time favorite ‘70s Rock acts (which I’ve seen numerous times in the past), but a friend invited me tag along with the group he had assembled to go, and since I hadn’t set foot in Starlight Theater in about a decade, I thought "What the hey," and decided to go. Turned out to be a good move, as it wasn’t a bad show.
Given my anti-Nugent manifesto that I posted just last month, I was really in no mood to see my ex-idol perform again at this point in my life. This was my 10th Nugent show since 1979 (his 7th as an opening act), and in a totally unintentional yet fairly symbolic gesture on my part, I happened to be in the men’s room taking a leak when Nugent’s set began—first time I’ve ever not seen him hit the stage in his 10 performances I’ve witnessed, gosh darn it! I sooooooo wanted to rip him to shreds here, but guess what—that’s not going to happen. Instead, even jaded ol’ me has to admit that this was easily the best set I’ve seen Ted Nugent play in person since 1982—musically, that is. He opened with "Wango Tango", minus the stupid rap about the Mazerati, but with a few bars from "Cool Jerk" (Ted Nugent sings the Go-Go’s!), then gave way to his rhythm guitarist for the vocal on the next song. I didn’t recognize the guy at first, but his voice sounded an awful lot like that of longtime on-and-off Nugent sideman Derek St. Holmes, and as it turned out, it WAS Derek St. Holmes! DSH was indeed "Just What The Doctor Ordered" to upgrade Nugent’s live act—it’s sorta like in baseball where you need a good #5 hitter to back up your clean-up batter, and Nugent has never understood this. He always has to hog the spotlight for himself, thus he can’t handle sharing it with a much more talented singer, and I never expected these two to ever work together again in light of Holmes’ commentary on the VH-1 "Behind The Music" segment on Nugent. Derek’s return led to an even more unexpected (and most welcome) surprise for me, as after 34 years, I finally got to hear one of my all-time Nugent favorites performed live, "Turn It Up" from Free-For-All, and it kicked ass. Could it be that Ted Nugent might actually find his way back into my good graces? Well, this was a step in the right direction, but not nearly enough.

I don’t know if this really made a big difference or not, but in another throwback to the ‘70s, I noticed Ted was once again playing his trademark Gibson Byrdland guitars instead of the Les Pauls he’d employed in recent years. The mighty Les Paul guitar looks just right on the likes of Pete Townshend and Ace Frehley, but on Nugent they always looked out of place. Meantime, Rev. Theodocious Atrocious goes through more drummers than Spinal Tap, but his current rhythm section is the best he’s had since the ‘70s, with "Wild" Mick Brown (formerly of Dokken) on drums and bassist Greg Smith, who looked like he wasn’t even born yet when Weekend Warriors came out in '78. The set list was rounded out by usual suspects like "Cat Scratch Fever", "Stranglehold", "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" and since Holmes was back, the hit "Hey Baby", which received a good reaction from the crowd, which I would estimate at about 7,000 or so. I was a bit surprised at the omission of "Free-For-All" and 1995’s "Kiss My Ass", and Ted fell flat on his face with his misguided tribute to black musicians in the form of a medley of "My Girl" (yes, the Temptations’ "My Girl") and a half-assed rendition of Chuck Berry’s "Johnny B. Goode". Soul Brotha #1, you ain’t, Ted. At least he spared us the firing of the flaming arrow into the fake guitar from ten paces this time.

And of course, it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped. For the first half of his 45-minute set, Nugent checked his tongue and focused more or less on the music and working the crowd. If I had a dollar for every time Nugent uttered the phrase "I love this shit!" (referring to being on stage playing to HIS people), the cost of my ticket would’ve been covered. "You fuckers deserve me, Kansas City!" he declared. Yeah, like whooping cough or inverted nipples. That wasn’t so bad, but like a junkie with a crack pipe, it wasn’t long before Ted stopped resisting temptation and spewed forth his usual right-wing Wookiee excrement. There was the usual paranoia about someone threatening to take his guns away, and statements like "The President is the enemy!...The Attorney General is the enemy!", as well as this classic: "If you’re not out there pissing off the assholes, then YOU are an asshole!" I guess I’m not an asshole, though, because if Ted reads this review, it’ll piss HIM off, so I’m covered, right? When Ted implored everyone to "Stand up for what you believe in", I promptly sat back down—I don’t believe in nandofucks. Ted’s coup de grace was when he stated, "I salute those who defend the Constitution that the President wipes his ass with!" Coming from an admitted draft dodger, I think this is a total insult to every combat veteran in America. I’d pay good money to see one of them shove their prosthetic leg or arm up Ted’s ass. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I attend a Rock show to be Rocked and entertained, not to be preached at and fed a load of political buffalo bagels. Why does Nugent insist on pissing all over an otherwise fine performance with all this bullshit that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the music he’s performing? He’s like the jagoff who farts at the dinner table at Thanksgiving. Do us all a big favor, Ted—just shut the fuck up, take a tip from Aerosmith and "Let the music do the talking…"

SET LIST: Wango Tango; Just What The Doctor Ordered; Wang Dang Sweet Poontang; Turn It Up; Medley: My Girl/Johnny B. Goode; Hey Baby; Cat Scratch Fever; Stranglehold; Great White Buffalo

R.E.O. was up next. This was my third time around with the Speedwagon, and second time with the current lineup of Bryan Hitt on drums, guitarist Dave Amato (who once worked with Nugent), bassist Bruce Hall, stalwart keyboardist Neal Doughty and singer Kevin Cronin. A brief video montage of Bo Diddley-beat songs from the past led into their opener, "Don’t Let Him Go". Cronin sported almost Phil Spector-ish poofy blonde hair, and as I feared, his voice has all the depth of a shot glass now, as the years have taken a toll on his vocal chords. He sounded really weak on the Arch Allies live CD, which came out over a decade ago, and sadly, not much has changed. But KC is a trouper and worked the crowd with Springsteen-like prowess throughout R.E.O.’s set, which was fairly predictable, featuring "Take It On The Run", "Time For Me To Fly" and "Back On The Road Again", as well as "Keep On Lovin’ You" and "Ridin’ The Storm Out" for the encore. I was also hoping to hear "157 Riverside Avenue" (with Cronin’s infamous yodeling) and perhaps some more obscure stuff like "Say You Love Me Or Say Goodnight" and "Good Trouble", but they could only cram so much into their 70-minute set. Which begs the question, did we really need Nugent at this show at all? I would much rather have skipped him altogether if it meant getting full 90-minute sets from Speedwagon and Styx. Anyway, the two surprises for me were "Golden Country", which was omitted in my previous two R.E.O. shows, and "That Ain’t Love", one of the last hits they had with long-estranged lead guitarist Gary Richrath in 1987. It seems almost like an indictment that this was the most recent song played by any of the three acts at this show. Have we really been this devoid of good classic Rock over the last 26 years?

SET LIST: Don’t Let Him Go; Take It On The Run; Keep Pushin’; Golden Country; Can’t Fight This Feeling; That Ain’t Love; Time For Me To Fly; Back On The Road Again; Roll With The Changes ENCORE: Keep On Lovin’ You; Ridin’ The Storm Out

All three acts employed the nice big video screen in back, but there were no live cameras at this gig, so it was basically all graphics, band logos and lame visuals all night—kinda worthless, I thought. The sound mix was a major issue for me too—it was way too trebly. I realize my ears are almost 49 years old now and can’t always take the pounding like they used to, but volume wasn’t the problem so much as the high-end shrieky-ness, even during R.E.O. and Styx, which left my ears ringing for quite some time afterward. But I have to say, Starlight Theater (pictured here from back in the '60s) is still the best concert venue Kansas City has to offer by far. It’s been around over 60 years now, but they’ve maintained and updated the place quite well over the years. My very first Rock concert happened here—Paul Revere And The Raiders in 1971—and I thought back to the other great shows I’ve seen at Starlight, like Pat Benatar in 2002, Robin Williams in 1983, and especially Elton John in 1982—not to mention nearly drowning in a thunderstorm at Weird Al Yankovic in 2000—and wondered why I don’t go there more often. Ironically, of all the major KC concert venues, apart from Arrowhead Stadium, Starlight is closest to where I live.

This was my fourth concert sojourn with the Stygians, but my first time without keyboardist/co-founder Dennis DeYoung, and I didn’t miss him as much as I expected to. Surprisingly, Styx doesn’t lose all that much without DDY, as his kinda-sorta sound-alike replacement Lawrence Gowan is quite the showman himself, and was very animated throughout the set, particularly on his little spin-o-rama keyboard platform at stage right, which almost looks like something you’d find on a galactic playground. Apart from his goatee, guitarist Tommy Shaw doesn’t appear to have aged a bit since 1977, and he bounded about the stage like a 12-year-old all night. Former Baby Ricky Phillips is now the full-time bassist for Styx (aren’t we all former babies?), but three songs in, original bassist Chuck Panozzo made a cameo appearance on "Fooling Yourself" and returned later for "Come Sail Away" and the encore. Chuck’s a nice guy, not to mention courageous in campaigning for gay rights and all, but honestly, he’s not that big a draw with the fans, so I guess trotting him out for a few songs is merely Styx’s way of throwing him a bone by keeping him on the payroll. And no offense intended to Chuck’s dearly-departed brother John, but his replacement, Todd Sucherman, is a monster on the drums. I always considered John Panozzo to be a bit pedestrian, while Sucherman is a far more dynamic player, and his drum kit rivals that of Rush’s Neil Peart in size.

Like R.E.O., the Styx set list was predictable with a couple minor surprises like "Light Up" from Equinox and Shaw’s underrated and overlooked "Man In The Wilderness" from The Grand Illusion. Gowan did a solo bit where he played bits from classic Rock numbers before leading into "Come Sail Away". I was hoping we might hear "Suite: Madame Blue" or "Lorelei", but again they could only do so many songs in the short time allotted. And I was absolutely stunned that they didn’t perform "Babe"! "Mr. Roboto", either! How could this be?!? Okay, I’m being facetious, but I was a bit disappointed they didn’t do an encore with the guys from R.E.O. as they’ve done on previous R.E.O. Styx-wagon joint tours, or perhaps even a Damn Yankees reunion between Shaw and Nugent. Still and all, this wasn’t a bad concert for the money. Nothing I hadn’t seen before, mind you, but if nothing else, it reignited my "concert mojo" a bit, which now has me interested in doing more than a few gigs this summer and fall, like Rush, the Eagles, Black Sabbath, Kiss, Heart, etc.

SET LIST: Blue Collar Man; The Grand Illusion; Fooling Yourself; Lady; Light Up; Man In The Wilderness; Miss America; Too Much Time On My Hands; Medley: Space Oddity/Layla (the piano part)/You Can’t Always Get What You Want; Come Sail Away ENCORE: Rockin’ The Paradise; Renegade