As the tulips blossom, or the robins return, or the last pre-finals marijuana is harvested, so do we know the approaching spring by the announcement of Sandstone Amphitheatre’s concert schedule. But as usual, the initial offerings are heavy on musicians closer to the September of their years than the afternoon of a fawn. Has anybody looked at a calendar lately? As passé as it is to make fun of pre-millennial holdovers — such as Eddie Money, who is hurtling toward Kansas City at this minute — guys like Styx, set to appear with Money, will always be more passé.

Rounding out that already bloated bill is REO Speedwagon. The three acts got their paunches dining on America’s breadbasket, and here they come for more. We’re exactly the market for whom a show like that is designed. Kansas City, the heartland, attracts bands whose members buy their leather pants from the husky section, dinosaurs who should rightfully be living off their stored body fat following the meteor storm of ’90s rock. But they lumber on, hungry and bleary-eyed. Where do Styx fans hide during the other 364 days of the year, and why can’t Styx just hide with them? How can we barricade around them so that such motley patch-up jobs stop feeding at our concert trough at the expense of cooler acts?

Did I say motley? Mötley Crüe is coming with Megadeth later this summer, also to Sandstone. Now that the Crüe is again without Tommy Lee, the crutch of a double bill is predictable. But there’s something about summer that causes concert promoters to marry off their bastard long-shot acts, as though seeing two shitty bands is a better deal than wasting 90 minutes on only one. Or four: Cinderella, Dokken, Slaughter, and Poison will open their own theater of pain at Sandstone on June 23. What, didn’t anyone call Autograph?

Other than the fact that one should avoid any concert performed by a collective that has either enough hair, real or not, to carpet the stage or not enough hair to cover one scalp, a bill with multiple headliners (no pun intended) is a marathon. For the outpatients who own every album by Styx, Money, and REO Speedwagon, the event will be like being part of an audience for the Pope, only with beer. But even the Pope knows when to apologize — for starters, he’d say he’s sorry for serving draft so foul it triggers fond memories of Hamm’s.

Even people who have enthusiastically awaited the return of two out of the three will probably regret sitting through all of the concert if their favorite is the last to perform. Not that any civilized person could make a convincing case for one over the other two. (Having the original band members doesn’t count; I’m not even sure Eddie Money is the original artist. Mötley Crüe is certainly without its most famous, uh, member.) Arguing the merits of tourmates at least will leave the uncivilized fans of Poison et al. with something to do during their half-day internment at Sandstone. By the way, I suggest ensuring that all four bands make their guarantees by having Cinderella mow the lawn, Dokken clean up after the show, and Slaughter cover the snack bar when they’re not on stage. Or sell nachos between songs.

This is the point, by the way. By bringing in a herd of acts no sober music fan could countenance, Sandstone rakes in so much beer and wiener money that Bill Gates should buy the place out. Hell, I have to stop and have two drinks if I just flip by a Styx song on the radio. For younger-skewing shows, such as Red Hot Chili Peppers with Foo Fighters (which sounds like a blue plate-and-antacid lunch special), you may not require alcohol to endure the concert, but you’ll be there long enough to drink plenty at a slow pace anyway.

Festival shows have done well in recent years. Ozzfest and Lilith Fair are just two easy examples of busloads of musicians who, divided, would be unlikely to conquer. But those carefully coordinated affairs have little to do with the summer stock of Sandstone’s upcoming drive-bys. You can feel the desperation in most of the combinations. Bands are supposed to sweat at outdoor concerts, but not from fear. Of course, if the Poison/Slaughter show tanks, each of the four bands will have liberal room to blame the others.

Imagine the hurt of all those power ballads. Too much of a good thing, whether it’s Lilith or Mega-Crüe, is baffling. You may like beans, but would you eat a plate of four kinds of beans? (If you answered “yes,” please sit on the lawn, not in reserved.)

No, if we’re stuck with a flying wedge from rock’s Island of Dr. Moreau, we should at least reintroduce novelty and spectacle to the season. Don’t just give me Great White and Jackyl; give me Great White and White Lion or Great White and Big Black. While you’re at it, regroup Black Flag and sign ’em up with Clint Black. In the spirit of Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire, we could send Tracy Bonham and Jason Bonham on a honeymoon tour. Or put Gang Starr on one of Ringo’s All Starr tours.

Eventually, we’ll get Whitman samplers of boy groups and underage sirens. Maybe even the Tiffany/Debbie Gibson “Girl on Girl” tour that fans have always craved. But I’d rather use the summer symbiosis season to introduce audiences to lesser-known acts. I’d line up to see Allen Clapp (of the Orange Peels) play with The Cure. Too cute? How about Sonic Youth and Musical Youth? It’s also a golden opportunity to finally figure out which one is Modest Mouse and which is Mouse on Mars. You think Beck is an irony icon? Saddle him with Jeff Beck for 20 dates and see whether there’s a quantum shift in the space-time continuum. That’s just spitballing, though. I’m sure people getting paid to package tours could figure out even better combinations. Wonder if they’ve thought of putting a symphony orchestra with the Moody Blues….

Categories: Music