by Ted Baker, Finger Lakes Daily News dot com
July, 1977. Your reviewer was just a couple of weeks out of High School, ready to embark upon training for a career in radio broadcasting. The Eagles were at the peak of their popularity, with Hotel California going on to win the 1977 Grammy for Record of the Year. That month, Styx released The Grand Illusion, the breakthrough album that established them as arena rock mainstays. Foreigner's first album had been out for a few months, and rock radio couldn't get enough. This was the Soundtrack of Summer '77.
Fast forward to July, 2014. Has it really been 37 years? Don Felder, Styx and Foreigner brought the Soundtrack of Summer Tour to CMAC in Canandaigua. Opening the show was Felder, longtime Eagles lead guitarist and co-author of some of their biggest hits. He opened with Already Gone from the Eagles early country/folk rock days, before segueing into the material that marked his influence and the band's evolution to a harder rock sound. Felder referred to his former band as the Seagulls and called Eagle Don Henley his "buddy." (Felder sued and was countersued by the band after his firing in 2001, settling out of court.) If you're going to do Eagles music, you'd better be able to sing harmonies. Felder's band showed off its vocal chops on the a capella opening of Seven Bridges Road. Especially impressive was Shem Von Schroeck for his bass playing, high harmonies and arms that look like they could bench press Styx and Foreigner. Drummer Scott Devour toured with the Who in 2009. The set included Felder's theme song from the 1980 Cult Classic Heavy Metal. Felder closed with Hotel California, trading vocals and guitar licks with Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw.
Styx was next. They are alternating show closing duties with Foreigner on the tour. The set list was pretty familiar to Styx fans. A couple of additions this time around were Light Up, from 1975's Equinox, with the crowd holding aloft the 2014 equivalent of Bic lighters, their smartphone flashlight apps, and Superstars, from the Grand Illusion, featuring Tommy Shaw's jaunt into the crowd. The band left the stage and a solo spotlight shined on Shaw for the acoustic guitar intro to Crystal Ball, the song he brought to Styx when he joined and which became the title track of his first album with the band. Keyboardist Lawrence Gowan joked about the recent fire that destroyed two tour buses during the audience singalong segment that has become the traditional lead in to Come Sail Away. "How do you start a tour bus on fire? Rub two Styx together." Gowan is a showman, making good use of a keyboard that rotates 360 degrees on a post. Encores were Rockin' the Paradise and Renegade.
This night belonged to Foreigner. A spoilsport might point out that guitarist Mick Jones is the only original member still in Foreigner and that, due to health issues, he doesn't play the entire set, but if the audience knew any of this, they didn't care. Frontman Kelly Hansen exploded onto the stage, whirling the mic stand around and asking why the people in the "best seats in the house" were "still on your asses" as he launched the band into Double Vision, Head Games and Cold as Ice, before bringing the tempo down for Waiting for a Girl Like You. Founding member Jones came on stage for Feels Like the First Time, the first track from Foreigner's debut album. Jones doesn't move very well these days, but the guitar licks took the audience back to their younger days. With three acts playing full sets, there's not a lot of room for surprises, the obscure album track or extended version of a familiar song. Felder and Styx stuck to familiar arrangements of their biggest hits. Foreigner was a bit more improvisational, with an excellent keyboard/drum intro to Urgent, featuring Thom Gimbel on sax. By the way, drummer Chris Frazier showed off an impressive array of stick twirls, tosses and catches to go along with solid drum work. The band really shined during the ethereal Starrider, a Jones composition from the first album featuring his iconic wailing guitar solo. An extended, jam-filled Juke Box Hero gave Hansen a chance to make his own foray into the audience. Last night's show took place in the backyard of Rochester's Lou Grammatica, (a/k/a Gramm) Foreigner's original front man and the latest member of the Steve Perry club, for singers who thought they were irreplaceable. The show closed with encores I Want to Know What Love Is, featuring the Canandaigua Academy jazz choir and a rip roaring Hot Blooded.
Many of the faces may not be the same, but the largely 50-something audience got what they came for, an evening of music and memories. Some other things have changed, as well. Today's sound systems are far superior to those of 40 years ago. Feedback and audio dropouts are mostly a thing of the past. It's also impressive how quickly the road crew can clear one band's gear and set up the next. Gear on wheels and modular stage backdrops cut the turnaround time to no more than 15 or 20 minutes. The show started right on time at 7PM and was over before 11.
If you fondly remember the Fonz or Billy Beer or if you had a Cheryl Tiegs poster in your room, the Soundtrack of Summer is just the ticket.