There's nothing better than a rock n' roll roadtrip. It was with that in mind that I hit I-94 Saturday bound for beer, gambling and a little prog rock in Michigan City.
Blue Chip Casino is one of the nicer casinos in the area. Flat screen TVs on top of table games (and like most casinos, great people watching) make it a good time even for the gaming challenged (like myself).
Just far enough from Chicago that it feels like you're out of town but actually close enough to take the train home, you can't beat the view of the lake from the spacious rooms in the new Spa Blue Tower.
For me, making a successful weekend roadtrip requires several crucial things because once I settle in, I don't want to leave. Let's review my checklist, shall we?
- Easy, affordable parking. Soon after I've arrived, there's a very good chance I'll be unable to legally navigate my vehicle as I'm liable to be... impaired (especially if the fourth item on this list holds).
- Good food, open late. Let's face it, casinos pump in fresh air and chances are you may see the sun come up... while drinking. So you might want to eat.
- The ability to enjoy myself without necessarily gambling. If you're like me, you'll lose your allotted gambling allowance fast. Too fast. Unless you're drunk... In which case, you won't realize you've lost that allowance and will continue gambling until you've found your way into a downward spiral. Not that I've ever done this. I digress... Regardless, you need something to command your attention when this inevitably happens because your friends WILL abandon you. Plan ahead.
- Cold beer, cheap. To fully enjoy your trip, lose your inhibitions and arrive at a place where you don't remember your budget and don't care, this is a must. It's possible this is the most important item on this list.
Luckily, the fine folks at Boyd Gaming are more than happy to oblige all of the above as myself and ChicagoNow colleague Gregg found out this past weekend in Michigan City.
From the moment we arrived, we were treated like VIP's... even though we clearly aren't.
One of my favorite concepts is that of old Vegas. I've never been to Las Vegas but I love the imagery of the "Rat Pack" sitting around, cracking wise, sharing a smoke. To this day, they remain the epitome of cool. And that's a vibe that Blue Chip gets. As soon as you pull up to the front of the casino via the curved drive, it's something you sense immediately in the architecture and it's the very reason that the venue's music room is named the Stardust Event Center (a nod to Vegas gone as the original Stardust was razed in 2007).
The Stardust Event Center at Blue Chip Casino seats 1,200... and it was sold out for Kansas on Saturday.
So many of these bands that got started in the late seventies and still tour do so with nearly unrecognizable lineups. So I couldn't help but wonder in what form Kansas currently exists: Drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams have apparently performed on every Kansas album. Save for a brief stretch, singer and keyboard player Steve Walsh has been with the band since the seventies, singing lead on the band's biggest hits. Bassist Billy Greer joined up in 1986 with violinist David Ragsdale entering the fold in 1991. Several original members including the singer... a pleasant surprise.
The original Kansas lineup haven't recorded an album together since 1980's Audio-Visions and on again, off again member Kerry Livgren had a stroke in 2009. However, the band is currently touring in support of a 35th anniversary "Dust in the Wind" book that features a Livgren-penned foreword.
As such, the band wasted no time celebrating that anniversary getting to material from 1977's Point of Know Return early blasting into the single of the same name second in the set.
I've never been a major fan of progressive rock. I've always preferred the heavier, more jazz influenced prog rock of a band like Rush to others of the ilk. But having seen Kansas live, I have a bit more of a respect for both the band and the genre. While it's not necessarily my favorite rock flavor, it's impossible to ignore the fact that these guys are good musicians.
While the band was definitely tuned down slightly, it was nevertheless a strong vocal showing early by Steve Walsh on "Dust in the Wind."
It would certainly be easy at this point for a band like Kansas to phone it in. But they didn't do it. "Icarus" saw violinist David Ragsdale move between violin and guitar, the three guitars giving the song a huge sound at times (It was Williams' best guitar playing of the night as he switched back and forth between acoustic and electric). "Hold On" hinged primarily on keyboard and violin, the thundering chorus making for a sweeping ballad.
From 1983's Drastic Measures, "Fight Fire With Fire" was dedicated to U.S. troops abroad, opening the encore (and by the way, how did I never notice how similar "Fight Fire With Fire" and Rainbow's "Stone Cold" sound until Saturday night? Just saying). Three guitars fueled that performance as well though Walsh's working of the audience certainly didn't hurt the crowd reaction.
But the band saved their biggest hit for last, jamming out a surprisingly raucous rendition of "Carry on Wayward Son" to close out the show. Dueling guitar licks and leads and Walsh's trademarks vocal pushed the song for nearly ten minutes.
Classic rock music just seems to lend itself well to the roadtrip so I'm going to stick with that for the time being. Coming up in April... The Rock n' Roll Roadtrip II: Foreigner Live in Texas.