While the rest of the country was busy picking the next “American Idol” the Tuesday before last, a former rock idol and a new “rock star” stormed the sold-out Rosemont Theatre. But this wasn’t just another ’80s rock sensation attempting to revive their career with a reunion tour — it was a chance for a new talent to prove himself.
In case you didn’t see last year’s “Rock Star: INXS” reality show, the band held open auditions to replace former frontman Michael Hutchence, who died in 1997. While Chicagoan Marty Casey was runner-up and remained frontmof The Lovehammers, former Elvis-impersonator J.D. Fortune earned the right to record a new album with INXS and join them on the road. Fortune faces the tough task that comes with any new lead singer — pull off the hits well enough to satisfy longtime fans, while simultaneously discovering his own identity and uniqueness and winning new fans over with that.
Fortunately for INXS, Fortune actually manages to pull of both pretty well. As he opened the show with the classic “Suicide Blonde,” it was obvious he had no problem picking up where Hutchence left off, ensuring the 20-year-old hits remained crowd favorites. This was critical, considering the crowd consisted mostly of middle-aged parents. They were far more interested in the classics than the new material, and INXS were smart enough to know this, as their set included staples “Devil Inside” and “What You Need,” and the encore closed with “New Sensation” and “Never Tear Us Apart.” The material off their debut with Fortune, Switch, went off with out a hitch as well. They played most of the tracks, including the sexy “Hot Girls,” “Afterglow,” and the Fortune-penned hit single, “Pretty Vegas.”
Fortune seemed extremely comfortable as a frontman, looking like he’d been touring with the band for years, based on the way he interacted with them, worked the stage, and worked the crowd. Unfortunately it was far too easy for him to cross from charismatic and engaging to completely self-indulgent, as he pulled such overdone poses as baring his chest (i.e. jacket with no shirt), smoking during a song just for effect, and simulating sex with a certain part of the microphone stand. During one early song dragged on, he seemed to lose himself onstage, as he did some strange introductions of the band members and the microphone stand stint. Though this was actually reminiscent of Hutchence, the audience seemed completely disconnected from him, and weren’t revived until the band broke into another classic hit.
Despite his few antics that were too edgy for the older crowd, it was obvious INXS chose the right frontman for the right reasons — he’s engaging, talented, sexy, and believes he was born to be a rock star. This was a stark contrast to the rest of the band who showed their age, as they moved around very little and could barely pull off short instrumental solos. It became painfully obvious that if it weren’t for Fortune, it’d hardly be worth showing up at all.
INXS took another risk by choosing Scott Stapp as the opening act, especially in Chicago. Last time he was in town as frontman of mega-group Creed, he was drunk on stage, resulting in a cancelled show, angry fans, and even lawsuits. But the crowd must have forgiven or forgetten, as they showed no signs of hostility throughout Stapp’s set. He opened with the big Creed hit “My Sacrifice,” and from there turned the rest of the set into his own personal therapy session. The song order documented the long journey Stapp has been on in rediscovering himself. He actually showed incredible humility, a trait not often found in rock stars, as he nearly apologized to the crowd (and the city) for his prior antics, and eagerly wanted to display his new self. His rugged rock voice was powerful as always, and the hard rock sound was at times too hard for the older crowd. But he made very wise song choices, including another Creed hit (“With Arms Wide Open,” introduced by his eight-year-old son, who inspired the song), and the highlights off of his solo debut, “The Great Divide” and “Justify.”
— Carter Moss