Music lovers headed to Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, VA, on Friday night for a thrilling concert co-headlined by Styx and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. The evening kicked off with opening act Tesla, a Sacramento hard rock band that’s been around for over 30 years. There was a sign behind the band with “30 Years” to recognize that milestone. Frank Hannon (guitar), Brian Wheat (bass), Jeff Keith (lead vocals), Troy Luccketta (drums), and Dave Rude (guitar) received a warm welcome from the crowd. They are due to release a new album called Shock in fall 2018. They performed a number of hits including “What You Give,” “Love Song,” and “Signs.” I would liked to have heard a track from Shock, but perhaps Tesla will play the newer material when the album release date comes closer.
The next act was Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2015. You really ought to see Joan Jett & the Blackhearts if you haven’t gotten a chance already. The set included the top hits one would expect such as “Bad Reputation,” “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” as well as covers from her time with her very first band The Runaways including “Cherry Bomb” and “You Drive Me Wild.” Geometric patterns and in some cases, the old music videos, were displayed on the screens behind the band. Jett smiled at the crowd before launching into “I Hate Myself for Loving You” as she remarked, “I know we all have someone who would fit this song, unfortunately.”
They also performed (Tommy James and the Shondells cover) “Crimson & Clover,” (Gary Glitter cover) “Do You Want to Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” and closed with everyone rocking out to (Sly and the Family Stone cover) “Everyday People.” Jett’s voice still rings out clear and true on all these tracks. The songs may be part of our great rock and roll catalog, but many fans would agree that these songs sound just as edgy and fierce as the days back when they were released. On Friday evening, longtime Blackheart Kenny Laguna summed up why Joan Jett & the Blackhearts were breaking ground many years ago as a band. “People thought it was weird and wrong for a girl with an electric guitar to lead a band of boys,” Laguna said.
The last act for the evening was Styx: James “JY” Young (lead vocals/guitars), Tommy Shaw (lead vocals/guitars), Todd Sucherman (drums, percussion), Lawrence Gowan (lead vocals/keyboards), and Ricky Phillips (bass). Original bassist Chuck Panozzo received a warm welcome when he came on for a few songs. Last year, Styx released a new album called The Mission. On Friday, they played Mission tracks “Gone, Gone, Gone,” “Radio Silence,” “Khedive,” and “The Outpost.” All of those selections are excellent and really showcase the talents of Shaw and Gowan. “Khedive” is different on the concert circuit because Gowan performs it as an instrumental.
The mood throughout the evening was upbeat and celebratory about a few things. As I mentioned above, there’s the new album, which was rereleased in a surround sound mix last month. Additionally, Styx’s 40-year career is something to marvel at. “We’ve kinda grown up together,” Shaw remarked, getting a count of returning concert attendees and newbies.
Finally, Styx couldn’t resist reminding fans in the D.C. area about a recent sports victory. “I heard somebody in this facility won the Stanley Cup Championship!” JY shouted as fans cheered.
Count on it that if the Stanley Cup gets mentioned at the Styx concert, the lifelong and tireless champion of the “hockey gospel” will have something to say about it. Sure enough, Gowan joined in the fun later when the time came for him to play a brief cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and his own oeuvre, “Khedive.” He said that the audience must be thinking, “God, we’ve got this Stanley Cup! I wonder if we can get a piano solo, too.”
The setlist for this year’s Bristow concert is nearly identical to the one from last year for Styx. There are too many Styx hits to fit into a 16 to 17 song setlist, but the setlist remains a crowd-pleaser with tracks like “Renegade,” “Come Sail Away,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” and “Lady.” JY did amazing vocals on another fan favorite, “Miss America.” Last year’s (Beatles cover) “Golden Slumbers” from Gowan has been replaced by (Queen cover) “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “Rockin’ the Paradise” moved out of the encore section and much earlier in the evening.
This shift was done to give the first encore slot to “Mr. Roboto,” an oft-requested song that hasn’t been done onstage in its entirety in at least 20 years. The audience responded quite positively as Gowan began the first few notes on Friday. From my vantage point, it looked like JY’s microphone was the one with the robotic voice setting during the “domo arigato” lyrics in the song. Let’s hope that “Mr. Roboto” stays in the setlist for a while in future Styx tours.
As in previous concerts Blogcritics has covered, Styx is very much in their element on stage and in keeping every moment packed with action and positive energy. Shaw, JY, and Gowan worked together well in managing the flow and engaging with the crowd. Shaw and Phillips (on bass) seemed to relish kneeling at the edge of the stage to show off their manual dexterity with the dramatic chord playing. Sucherman and Panozzo also impress with their handiwork on drums and bass, getting cheers from the crowd regularly.
Shaw likes to introduce songs in a playful fashion – for example, noting how quickly the concert is going by and asking Gowan if he has “something to help out with this time situation.” It’s a clever introduction to “Too Much Time on My Hands.” He continues within the song with the fun, when he reaches the line “Is it any wonder I’m not a criminal?” and mentions the “criminal mind over there.” It’s a nice quip that you’d miss if you weren’t aware of Gowan’s solo career prior to joining Styx. Gowan has a track called “A Criminal Mind.”
Styx does an excellent job of tying together the set and clothing designs to promote both their hits and The Mission visually. Album covers appear on the screen behind the band. It’s a nice touch that some aspects of an album cover, such as the trees on The Grand Illusion, are sliding across the display. When it came time for “Mr. Roboto,” the screens showed the iconic mask and rotating robots, with flames rising up by the end of the song.
The clothing designs really come into play with The Mission. It was much more explicit in the last Styx tour, when Gowan alternated between the red and yellow jackets that basically begged for comparisons with Star Trek. On this Styx tour, Gowan has traded in his red shoes and red jacket for dark grey shoes and a sleek silver jacket with a pattern of black, grey, and blot-like shapes.
The new color scheme is suitable because silver has often been used for futuristic programs – and The Mission takes place in the future out in space. Shaw also wore a silver jacket on Friday that worked well with the sort of spaceship look of the stage platforms. Linking Shaw and Gowan with their outfits, if that was intended, accentuates the back and forth on their Mission songs when they switch off on lead vocals from song to song. This last part may be a stretch, but I’ll add that Gowan’s jacket looks very textured with the abstract patterns, calling to mind the shadowy and cratered surfaces of a moon or planet if you look hard enough.
What’s next for these rock bands?
Overall, Tesla, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, and Styx provided a wonderful evening of entertainment, banter, and music in Bristow, VA. If you’re elsewhere and hoping to catch the trio, Sunday, July 16 marked the end of this leg of the tour. The bands are moving onto their separate tours for now. Tesla has a couple of shows this week before picking it back up in September. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts continue on their tour this year and then they will go overseas in January to Australia. Styx will begin again on August 1 and continue through the end of the month. There’s still plenty of time to see each band if you didn’t have a chance over the first part of the summer.