Foreigner, Styx, Leppard at the Minnesota State Fair: concert review

Sheesh, I should be in bed right now, but I just had to post this:

Last night at 5:30PM Dawn said to me, "So, you're gonna go to that concert, right?" I had sorta given up on the idea, but at that moment I got inspired so I got a lift to the shuttle bus, zipped over to the Fairgrounds in St. Paul, walked to the grandstand and bought my ticket as Foreigner started their first song. I'm very shaped by the FM radio rock of the '70s and '80s, so this evening was sort of a pilgrimage to the tunes that brought me to where I am today. Ten bucks says that in 30 years nobody is gonna be going anywhere to hear The Arcade Fire in concert.

FOREIGNER played first. English grandpa Mick Jones is the founder and songwriter for the band, and there he was, playing nice piano and shredding on the guitar like a pro. Of course, the main personality of the band for most folks is famed singer Lou Gramm, who has not been in the band for about five years. Health problems took Lou out of commission, and it's initially hard to imagine that the band could soldier on without him, but MAN, good old Mick found an incredible new vocalist to front the group, Kelly Hansen. This guy is one of the greatest male tenor rock vocalists I've ever heard in concert, and he KICKED butt...and he looked cool in red pants. The chords and melodies of Foreigner songs are so good that they transcend some of the most groin-driven lyrics in rock history...and these old tunes hold up well. Did through your musical vaults and listen to Lou Gramm's original high notes in the vocal performances in "Feels Like the First Time" and "Juke Box Hero"...these are amazing notes, and Hansen nailed 'em, as well as every other vocal line, sounding eerily like Gramm. The rest of the band was quite good too, especially the drummer who bashed out these old standards like Dave Grohl. Rock on Mick, you're keeping the family business afloat admirably.

STYX played next. As most of you know, I love Styx...they're one of my favorite and most influential bands. Also...I've seen them in concert about ten times in the past decade. Also, last night, as always, they were awesome, they rocked, and they were super-tight, full of joy, and with mind-blowingly awesome vocals. Really, it's true. That being said, I've earned the right to challenge them on some aspects of their allow me some nitpicking:
+ I know they've only got 45 minutes, so they've got to play the hits...but I've heard this set list so many times, I really think I'm done going to see them in concert (especially when they're the opener).
+ Yes, JY needs to sing a song, but why must it ALWAYS be "Miss America?" I've never really liked this one, PLUS since Dennis DeYoung left in '99 JY has been singing the awesome "Lorelei"...and "Lorelei" was an actual Top 40 hit! Time to retire "Miss America," guys.
+ Todd Sucherman, yes, you are a head-spinningly good drummer. But why all the funky, skippy, snare noodling on "Too Much Time" and "Grand Illusion?" Just play the groove, man! I know you're in Styx, and the drums are pretty much always playing a fill, but geeze, you're playing like Stewart Copeland after too much Jolt Cola. A few less 16th notes, please.
+Props to Lawrence Gowan for being a much better Dennis DeYoung than Dennis himself. Gowan is a instrumental superpower, and on "Grand Illusion" he toned down his Scottish twang more than usual...I'm sure the casual fan thought he was the original singer of the song. Love you Larry!
+ In closing, I'll comment on the subtle beauty of "Fooling Yourself," one of the greatest Styx songs. Sandwiched between the testosterone of Foreigner and Leppard, Styx gave the audience a subtle breath of fresh air: Tommy Shaw grabbed his acoustic guitar, original bassist Chuck Panazzo came out to play (nice to have you around, Chuck!), Gowan delivered those thrilling keyboard solos while standing backwards at the keyboard, and everybody moved in and out of weird time signatures with casual perfection. This song, with its uplifting lyrics and instrumental sophistication was an oasis in a sea of Classic Rock wankery.

DEF LEPPARD was the headliner. Big production, video screens with special synchronized visual effects...the whole shebang. They opened with "Rocket" followed by "Animal." It took about two measures for the whole audience to realize that lead vocalist Joe Elliot CAN'T FREAKIN' SING. I couldn't believe how bad it was. His voice was totally blown out. The sound tech did his best to bury Joe's mic amongst the other noise, but to no avail...everybody knew the vocals sucked. Plus the other four guys in the band were trying to reproduce the 26-tracked harmony vocals of the albums, and they were obviously about 22 voices short. After their disastrous attempt at "Foolin'" (another GREAT song, butchered) I left, only four songs into their show. And I didn't walk out because the band stank (which they indeed did)...I walked out because I was embarrassed for them, especially after they followed Foreigner and Styx who were so tight and rocking and vocally stunning. I felt so bad for the Lepps that I just had to get outta there. Here's a brutal review by another blogger who was there. "Do you wanna get rocked?" No thanks, I wanna take the shuttle bus home and change Svea's diaper.


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