ATLANTIC CITY — Consider the triple-bill of Kansas, Foreigner and Styx on Friday night at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa a scenario where strength in numbers paid off — big time.
In what was a classic rocker’s dream concert, three of the top musical acts of the 1970s and ’80s teamed up for an extraordinary night of hits and nostalgia, aptly named the “United We Rock” tour.
All three of the acts have headlined in town over the years, so to be able to see all three in one night proved to be a treat. While none of the acts have had a hit in more than two decades, that didn’t matter to the mostly baby-boomer crowd that paid $75 to $95 to see the aging rockers in the sold-out Event Center.
Diehard fans would probably be disappointed, since all three bands performed abbreviated, greatest-hits sets. There were few deep album cuts here; this was a summer singalong.
Of the three bands, only opener Kansas still possesses its lead singer, Steve Walsh. Still able to hit plenty of the high notes, Walsh proves that you can maintain great pipes even with age. But he was only one of the reasons why the band stood out.
Kansas’ tunes, a mix of progressive, and often complex, rock arrangements, have really held up well, particularly the band’s opener, “Point of No Return,” and their megahits “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry On Wayward Son,” the latter which served as a fitting encore and really showed the still-impressive guitar skills of original member Rich Williams.
The other remaining original, Phil Ehart, pounded the drums like he was still in his 20s. Violinist David Ragsdale showed his musical diversity, offering note-for-note fiddle solos and even showing his guitar chops. The only thing he needs is a fashion adviser. A vest without a shirt underneath … really?
Even though bassist Billy Greer joined the band in 1986, he seems like the glue that keeps Kansas sounding tight. His solid bass skills were even surpassed by his above-average voice as he provided sweet harmonies throughout the band’s eight-song, 45-minute set, particularly on the epics “Miracles Out of Nowhere” and “Icarus (Born On Wings of Steel).”
Kansas was a tough act to follow, even if they didn’t have the catalog of hits the others on the bill possessed, but Foreigner was up to the task, unleashing a retro-rock assault that included the openers “Double Vision,” “Head Games” and “Cold As Ice” in an ear-pleasing set that offered hit after hit: “Dirty White Boy,” “Feels Like the First Time,” “Juke Box Hero,” “That Was Yesterday,” “I Want to Know What Love Is” and “Hot Blooded.”
In other words, they didn’t leave the audience salivating for a single song.
Original guitarist Mick Jones may look like somebody’s grandfather on stage — a grandfather wearing skintight black leather boots, that is — but he still can rip up the frets, often offering extended, impressive solos. His only misstep was offering the trippy “Starrider,” an awful song when it was written more than 30 years ago that certainly hasn’t gotten any better. Thankfully, it was the only song he sang all night.
The band even offered a new song, the title track from its latest CD, “Can’t Slow Down,” an ’80s-sounding, catchy tune that didn’t enthuse the crowd, but it didn’t send them running to the bathrooms, either.
Kelly Hansen may be no Lou Gramm, but at this point, he can certainly sing better than the rock legend. Looking like Aerosmtih’s Steven Tyler, but far more annoying with his overzealous stage antics, Hansen’s golden voice fits the band well, as does maniacal bassist Jeff Pilson, a founding member of Dokken who seems to be having fun with his latest gig.
Even though Foreigner is practically a glorified tribute band with one original member, it didn’t matter to the satisfied crowd.
Styx, while talented musicians, just didn’t match the firepower of Foreigner.
Even though the band has a slew of top-20 hits that they offered to the crowd — “Lady,” “Come Sail Away,” “Fooling Yourself,” “Renegade,” “Blue Collar Man” and “Too Much Time On My Hands” — the prog-rock band simply didn’t fill its set with enough of the hits that fans would have expected in a show like this. Plus, many of the songs are just flat-out borefests.
Often bloated and bombastic, Styx’s songs lack the heart of the tunes from the night’s other two headliners. The band also misses frontman Dennis DeYoung, a good deal of the brains and charisma of Styx. Lawrence Gowan does a nice job of filling DeYoung’s shoes. He’s basically a DeYoung impersonator with a silly keyboard that rotates on a pedestal.
Longtime member Tommy Shaw still has the boyish energy, great voice and strong guitar skills to carry the show, while guitarist James Young also still has it, showing his vocal skills on “Lorelei” and “Miss America,” two songs that could have easily been left off the setlist.
Even though the band played a good deal of its hits, noticeably absent were “Babe,” “The Best of Times,” “Show Me the Way” and “Mr. Roboto,” which would have been much preferred over “Borrowed Time” and others.
A nice bonus was Styx’s version of “High Enough,” a ballad from Shaw’s former band, Damn Yankees … a high point in a very hokey set.
The “United We Rock” tour could have been a little more united if more original band members got back with their bands, but more than three hours of music from three of the most successful classic-rock bands proved to be a fun night — no matter who was on stage.
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