Concert review: Styx, REO Speedwagon, Don Felder pull off retro without being relics
Tuesday night at Amsoil Arena, three big names of classic rock served up a smorgasbord of nonstop hit songs that thrilled a nearly full house for four hours, and each of them did so with style and grace.
It's not an easy feat to pull off — many rockers of a certain vintage tend to lean on easy moves that pander to their audience, or they end up relying too much on their "retro" status to hit the nostalgia button, but Tuesday's show proved that it's possible to play the songs that are part of the fabric of peoples' lives without seeming like relics from another time.
The crowd was pretty full from the start, as former Eagles member Don Felder began his set. Felder is more of a '70s guy — he cowrote "Hotel California," for Pete's sake — but he managed to fit right in. He wasted no time during his performance, playing a number of Eagles hits and singing them well. His voice was smooth and capable of covering the Glenn Frey/Don Henley bases with ease. He did his warmup-slot job admirably, getting the audience on their feet more and more with each massive radio staple. Styx' Tommy Shaw got a couple of guest slots, and Felder ended his performance with Shaw and Dave Amato from REO Speedwagon out on the lip of the ramp that extended from the front of the stage into the crowd, the three of them playing the guitar harmonies at the end of "Hotel California," stopping on a dime and making the crowd go nuclear in response. (Shaw also handled half the vocals on the song, early on making a case for himself as a totally underrated singer. More on this later.)
It's probably got to be a daunting task to follow one of the biggest FM-radio staples of all time, but REO Speedwagon had a clutch of their own hits to deploy, and they did so with aplomb. Their music isn't widely thought of as — well, it's not widely thought of. You don't hear tons of musicians copping to a sweet tooth for Speedwagon, but the fact remains that, even today, you can turn on classic-rock radio and wait 10 minutes and hear one of their songs. They're poppy, hook-laden, and they don't require a lot of the listener. Lead singer Kevin Cronin sounded good, and the rest of the Speedwagoners came off like regular Joes with a catalog most bands would kill for. There were a couple of stretches where they played a few too many deep cuts in a row, but the crowd didn't seem to lose interest. By the time they got into "Roll with the Changes" at the end of their set, they had sealed up a solid win.
As the headliner, Styx had the whole ramps-and-catwalks stage setup going, with LED screens and the whole nine yards, but they didn't come off as ostentatious or gaudy. Strangely, as proggy and nerdy as they can be, they too seemed like guys without anything to prove, who just enjoy playing music together. Of course, Dennis DeYoung is no longer with the band (and hasn't been for two decades), but singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan covered for him ably. And drummer Todd Sucherman was a monster behind the kit.
The big thing was how good Tommy Shaw still sounds. The guy's 64, and he sang "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)" like it was written yesterday. Really, he's a soulful singer with a great instrument, and he nailed all the high notes. (Oh, and he can still kick his leg above his head, too.) While some of the Styx set might've delved a bit too deeply into their most recent album, there weren't any bathroom-break duds to be found, and "Come Sail Away" was a treat and a half.
It was a surprising concert to behold, in that it could've easily been a cheesy hey-remember-when walk down memory lane, but instead, it was a solid night of music by musicians who wrote half the current playlist of KQDS 40 years ago and clearly still love doing what they do.
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. Read his weekly album reviews in Thursday's A&E section.