STYX, JOAN JETT AND TESLA CONTINUE TO DEFY AGE WITH ENERGETIC PERFORMANCES
Date: July 4, 2018
Venue: Budweiser Stage
Location: Toronto Ontario, Canada
Reviewer: Mark Horvath
Photos: Mark Horvath
I had completely forgotten that Styx was coming to town with double-header Joan Jett and the Blackhearts with Tesla as an opener. As rock continues to dwindle here in North America, I find it odd when promoters pair off certain bands together on the same tour such as Styx being an advanced songwriting prog-rock giant in the ’70s and early ’80s, and Joan Jett being a product of the early glam rock and punk infusion with a dose of 1950s influence. With these two being an odd enough pairing, they also give us Tesla as the opener who are lumped in with 1980s ‘hair metal’. There is no way in hell that we would have seen Styx headlining the Kilroy tour with Joan Jett opening up for them in 1983 — it just wouldn’t have worked, let alone sold well. In 2018 however, it works, partly due to a lack of touring rock acts and partly a nostalgia overload that fans like myself lap up.
I was reviewing this concert because Sleaze Roxx editor Olivier could not make it that night so asked if I could attend via a press pass. Given that this was my first time being ‘the press’ at a rock show, I approached the ticket booth where the staff quickly handed me my ticket after explaining I had a press pass. They did not however, give me the actual press pass sticker which turned out to be a headache for me. As my friend Rita and I approached the security staff, they spotted my camera and told me I was not allowed inside with it. “But I’m the press!” I proudly exclaimed. “I have a press pass too!” Tesla was just starting at this point and I was told I had to leave my camera with the security booth where I could retrieve it later and that the press was already in front of the stage taking pictures of Tesla. Between going back and forth between security guards explaining myself and checking my Canon SDLR camera with the security booth, I ended up missing half of Tesla’s set.
The next thing that was interesting to me is how promoters will try to make a show look full when it doesn’t sell that well. Amphitheater tours are great for this as they always have a seated area and then an open lawn area where they can sell more tickets at a lower price. So long as the seated area looks full, then the turnout looks fantastic which is great for bands that can no longer fill an arena of 18,000 people on their own. Styx are now definitely in this category. The promoters for an amphitheater also have the option of selling open lawn tickets or not. On this show however, the lawn area tickets were being sold. My friend Rita had bought a lawn ticket online so she and I could sit together as my seat was in the 200’s section but would allow me to go to the lawn area. Rita was told by security that she was automatically being ‘upgraded’ to the 400’s section. “What about my friend who was going to join me from the 200’s section?” she asked. Security thrust a free ticket in her hand in the 400’s for a seat right beside hers. So, this Styx/Joan Jett/Tesla show was nowhere near being sold out as later on during the concert, I still saw some spotty areas of empty chairs in the 400’s. With a seating capacity of 9,000 however, I’d say this concert had close to that number. The lawn could have handled an additional 7,500 people.
Once we arrived at our seats, we managed to see the last half of Tesla’s set. So many bands of this genre can no longer keep it together due to substance abuse, egos or a lack of income potential. So Tesla must be doing something right by being on the same bill with legends such as Styx. Tesla looked and sounded great, as though it were 1990 all over again. Lead vocalist Jeff Keith’s loud and strong raspy vocals have also really stood the test of time as he hasn’t lost a bit of his range or power. Would Styx and Joan Jett fans appreciate a band like Tesla 30 years ago? Probably not but on this night they were greeted by a loud cheering audience, many of whom were still arriving and finding their seats. I found Tesla’s set to be perfect entertainment for an early part of a show and despite the odd billing of bands on this tour, Tesla ended up fitting like a glove.
01. I Wanna Live
02. Hang Tough
03. Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)
04. What You Give
05. Signs (Five Man Electrical Band cover)
06. Love Song
07. Little Suzi (Ph.D. cover)
08. Modern Day Cowboy
Tesla performing “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)” live at Budweiser Stage in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 4, 2018:
Opening for Styx and Joan Jett. @ Budweiser Stage
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts:
Next up was Joan Jett. Security had told me that there would be no press pictures for her set so I stayed in my seat until Jett’s set was finishing up where I could then join the other members of the press. Joan and her band the Blackhearts nonchalantly walked out on the stage and manned their instruments. It was so casually done that the audience had to look twice to make sure that it really was her. As the audience slowly started to cheer, there was no mistaking who this was as the band ripped into “Bad Reputation.” Jett looked as great as ever, maintaining her youthful slim physique with her slender muscled arms holding her guitar and her classic hair style. Jett also has a raspy powerful voice and one must ponder as to when voices age and stop sounding like they used to. Jett will be 59 in September and is certainly showing no signs of it as she sang and jumped on the spot during her set. Maybe it’s the vegetarian diet that Jett has been on for decades. There is something so relaxed about Jett, she certainly appears not only confident but displays a high level of being comfortable in her own skin.
Long-time guitar player Dougie Needles shared centre stage with Jett as the Blackhearts tore through their set of hits. Jett’s set included some older Runaways songs as well. She introduced “You Drive Me Wild” as the first song she ever wrote and you could hear the T Rex classic glam rock influences. Jett’s seemingly forever manager Kenny Laguna who discovered Jett was once again on keyboards and backup vocals and told a story of Jett being consistently being rejected by all labels after the breakup of The Runaways that they together started their own label Blackheart Records. “Light Of Day” also made an appearance from the 1988 movie soundtrack Bright Lights Big City that Jett starred in with Michael J Fox. The Blackhearts finished their set with Sly and the Family Stone cover “Everyday People.” During this song is when I had to make my way down to retrieve my camera from the security booth as well as retrieve my proper press pass and join the other press members. We were led to the narrow slot between the stage and the barricade where the front row fan seating started to take pictures for the first three tracks.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ setlist:
01. Bad Reputation
02. Cherry Bomb (The Runaways cover)
03. Do You Wanna Touch (Gary Glitter cover)
04. Victim Of Circumstance
05. Soulmates To Strangers
06. You Drive Me Wild (The Runaways cover)
07. Light Of Day (Bruce Springsteen cover)
08. Fake Friends
09. Love Is Pain
11. Fresh Start
12. Love Is All Around (Sonny Curtis cover)
13. I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll (The Arrows cover)
14. Crimson & Clover (Tommy James & the Shondells cover)
15. I Hate Myself for Loving You
16. Real Wild Child (Wild One) (The Dee Jays cover)
17. Everyday People (Sly and the Family Stone cover)
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts performing “Fresh Song,” “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll,” “Crimson & Clover” and “I Hate Myself For Losing You” live at Budweiser Stage in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 4, 2018:
My fan footage. Bud Stage Sec 102, Row A, Seat 23 Fresh Start (new tune), Love is All Around, I Love Rock ‘n Roll, Crimson & Clover, I Hate Myself for Loving You, Real Wild Child, Everyday People
Styx rocketed off with the instrumental “Overture” and then “Gone Gone Gone” from 2017’s album The Mission. I’d think 90%+ of the crowd did not know this song but it’s honorable that Styx keep moving forward with releasing new music and not just touring on the reliance of their hits dating back some 35-40 years. Next up was “Blue Collar Man.” The most notable performer that clearly everyone had their eyes on was the youthful looking Tommy Shaw who seems to defy age. At one point, my friend Rita asked me “Is that a dude?” to which I explained that yes, this is the legendary Tommy Shaw. Sure, he doesn’t look as young as he did in 1978 but holy cow this effeminate 64 year-old looked extremely youthful with a slender physique, long blond hair and very energetic performance running around the stage with all the bombastic rock-star poses that a performing musician could muster. In fact, since every member of Styx is in their ’60s and some having already pushed past retirement age, they all looked and sounded amazing for their chronological years. Shaw also mentioned that a new Styx album was underway. The stage had another riser behind the drum kit connected by stairs that allowed the band members to run up and perform.
The next amazing this to me was hearing the man known as Lawrence Gowan perform the Dennis DeYoung hits. Gowan is a Canadian who came to fame in Canada in the mid-1985 who’s 1970s prog-rock background was transformed in a very new-wave sound. Gowan released a string of radio-friendly hits that were showcased on Canada’s MuchMusic (Canada’s version on MTV) and AM radio which seemed to blend in perfectly with all new-wave pop hits happening at that time. As a metal-loving teenager back then, I could not have been less interested in this strange looking musician known simply as ‘Gowan’ and his career was flattened along with all of the new-wave bands after the emergence of grunge.
The interesting thing is that with the departure of Dennis DeYoung, the band Styx somehow found Lawrence Gowan and saw him as a candidate. After hearing Gowan sing DeYoung’s hits on this night (which included “Come Sail Away,” “The Grand Illusion,” “Lady” and “Mr. Roboto”) it was clear that Styx had found the perfect performer who seemed to fit like a glove not only with the ability to sing in DeYoung’s register but also mesh well with Styx’s chemistry. In fact, a casual fan who doesn’t know much about Styx history probably would not have known the difference as often Gowan sounded nearly identical to DeYoung. Styx were confident they could still thrive without DeYoung’s star power and being one of their chief hit-songwriting members and they have proved it with adding Gowan. Gowan also made a few comments during the show that referenced Toronto nostalgia including Sam the Record Man, the Forum live venue and if you wanted to steal the new upcoming Styx record you should do it the old way by walking into a record store wearing a trench coat and slide an LP inside it. This brought a huge cheer and applause by the fan base who largely were buying music prior to an MP3 era. Gowan also performed his 1985 hit “A Criminal Mind” which every Canadian of the era will remember being in heavy-rotation on radio.
James Young also thanked the crowd prior to performing their 1976 hit “Suite Madame Blue” as apparently the song became popular in Canada first and helped break Styx in the USA to become the prog-rock legends they are today. Original bass player Chuck Panozzo also was introduced around the half way point of Styx’s set prior to the song “Fooling Yourself.” He is now 70 and is considered a part-time Styx member. Panozzo is HIV-positive and splits his time between the band and working as an advocate for gay rights and HIV awareness. A strange event was that Styx did not ditch their regular touring bass player Ricky Phillips after Panozzo joining the stage. So the band sported two bass players for the last half of the concert.
Overall, a very impressive performance from a band who is arguably in the twilight of its career but shows no signs of slowing down and seems to be enjoying every minute of it.
02. Gone Gone Gone
03. Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
04. The Grand Illusion
06. Radio Silence
07. Rockin’ the Paradise
08. A Criminal Mind (Gowan song)
09. Miss America
10. Suite Madame Blue
11. Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
12. Too Much Time On My Hands
14. Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen cover)
15. Come Sail Away
16. Mr. Roboto
Styx performing “Mr. Roboto” and “Renegade” live at Budweiser Stage in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 4, 2018:
My fan footage. Bud Stage Section 102, Row A Seat 23. Mr. Roboto, Renegade