Styx at the Santa Barbara Bowl (July 27, 2014)

Paul Wellman

Styx at the Santa Barbara Bowl (July 27, 2014)

Review: Foreigner and Styx at the Santa Barbara Bowl

1980s Radio Rockers Delivered Hits, Misses on Sunday, July 27

Cocteau Twins just rereleased their best album from 1990. Throughout the Foreigner/Styx concert at the Bowl last Sunday night, I kept flashing on its title: Heaven or Las Vegas. Surprisingly, a lot of this show seemed heavenly, especially contrasted with the recent Ringo Starr performance, a by-the-numbers revival act that dully reanimated a lot of bands like Journey and Toto, who shared a radio era with these 1980s hit factories. By contrast, this show was full of spirit, theatrics, and seeming spontaneity. The most heavenly surprises came from the early opener Eagles guitarist Don Felder. First came a beautiful a cappella performance from Santa Barbara’s Teen Star Choir; then Felder freely covered songs from that illustrious (and snobby critic reviled) band, delivering soaring versions of “Witchy Woman” and “Seven Bridges Road.” It’s not a Las Vegas act if one original member is still in the group, right? But the most glorious moments came when Felder performed his own “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride),” written for the campy animated film of the same name.

But the true stars of the evening were Styx, even four songs in when they overdid the tune I love/hate most in the universe, the long crescendo-ing “Lady.” It seemed funny and remarkable live. The Chicago band still has original members (plural), but they also have heart, soul, and performance chops. Wisely, they saved their feckless abandon, intergalactic light-show choreography, and soaring dynamics for Eric Cartman’s favorite song “Come Sail Away.” It was heaven and Las Vegas commingling.

But the most Vegas-ish segment was the opening four songs from Foreigner, who at that point contained no original members. They were good, but everybody around me kept trying to figure out whether Mick Jones was on the stage. On the fifth song, he emerged and then played hard on “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” The best part of the evening? With the whole audience on its feet and bopping, it was a tossup between “Juke Box Hero” and the celestial “Starrider,” which Jones sang, wistful and assured, and more about paradise than Sin City.

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