THE MIDWEST ROCK N ROLL EXPRESS with STYX, REO SPEEDWAGON and TED NUGENT — The Greek Theater, May 6, 2012
There was ample reason to shell out some hard-earned cash this May night. It might not look like a fun prospect if you don’t know the bands: three groups that have made a handful of albums between them in the past 20+ years, touring on songs made no later than 1984. But the audience at the Greek Theater knew that these multi-platinum (that’s millions of albums) artists and staples of rock’n’roll the world over still have what it takes to put butts in seats and then get them up and dancing.
First up on the Midwest Rock’N’Roll Express was one Motor City Madman, aka The Nuge, Uncle Ted, one Ted Nugent. Playing on a stage lined with guitars, Nugent broke out some of his choicest songs like Cat Scratch Fever, Wang Dang Sweet Poontang and Wango Tango. His groove-oriented songs were often short on sentiment, the lyrical subject matter mostly about sex, women and good times and a lovely lady was invited out to shimmy and shake to bring the point home. He called out to some originators of rock’n’roll like Little Richard, James Brown, Chuck Berry and many many more, saying if it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be any rock music in the world. After hearing this I now can spot those influences in his music. Closing out the set, Stranglehold sounds like no other song out there: a slow-burning number with “Wild” Mick Brown (formerly of Dokken) laying out a suspenseful tempo, Greg Smith slinking around on bass and Derek St. Holmes and Nugent squeezing out guitar peals and playing like a rising storm. The song grooves along on triumphant highs and sexy lows before finally breaking loose in the last minute, causing the audience to jump around and go nuts.
Our ears still ringing from Ted Nugent’s high decibel set, REO Speedwagon showered us with their sunny songs of love and positivity. The band began their set with Take It On the Run, a song about a rocky relationship, the impossibly fit and youthful Kevin Cronin singing with gusto, Dave Amato’s angry guitar solo reflecting the nature of the lyrics even as the whole band had huge smiles on their faces. REO is a band that’s been around long enough to understand showmanship, dressing nice and acknowledging the audience. Their set was so full of energy and they all looked like they love what they’re doing. Keep Pushin’ sounds like a new song for all the vitality the band put into it. Bassist Bruce Hall, with his white hair flowing took the microphone for Back on the Road Again, a bluesy rocker that reminded the audience that before they wrote ballads, REO was a bar band for years.
Of course there were the ballads. Hands and lighters waved in the air for I Can’t Fight This Feeling, couples hugged and kissed and fans sang along without irony to this classic love song. Keep On Loving You came later, Cronin on piano, a singalong about unconditional love, with another excellent solo from Amato. Cronin stayed at the piano to begin Roll With The Changes, singing about “deserts burnin’ and “sweet sun showers” inciting the audience to sing along. After that lovefest, REO Speedwagon encored with their hardest rocking song of the night: Ridin’ the Storm Out. The fans in my section finally took to their feet and sang along as Amato soloed and Neal Doughty played some tasty organ runs. If you get a chance to see REO Speedwagon the next time they come to your town, do yourself a favor and get your tickets early because these guys know how to put on a great show!
Headlining the night was Styx, the band that knocked REO’s Hi Infidelity out of the number one spot with their Paradise Theater album. Last year fans got to hear Pieces of Eight and Grand Illusion performed live in their entirety, this time around fans got to hear hits from the band’s long career. And what songs they were! Tommy Shaw, another eternal youth, began the set with Blue Collar Man, celebrating the working class, the packed Greek Theater singing at the tops of their lungs. Singer and keyboardist Lawrence Gowan took over for Grand Illusion, his theatricality a great fit for the band. Gowan’s throaty vocals and attention to the audience led us into continuing to singing lyrics about not being drawn in by celebrity and besting your neighbors saying that “deep inside we’re all the same”. His keyboards and James “JY” Young’s guitars captured the magnificence of the song and sentiment wonderfully. Riding on that high, the 80’s keyboard sequences of Too Much Time On My Hands began, Tommy Shaw making faces and having fun, bringing the microphone around to the audience to trade lines about wasting time and daydreaming while (likely) being unemployed. While Lady is the better known song, Lorelei is even better, a hard rocking celebration of love sang by JY and joined by the rest of the band, with the chorus “Lorelei let’s live together/ Brighter than the stars forever,” a song that put smiles on our faces and was quiet heartwarming.
Tommy Shaw sang the lovely and forlorn Man In The Wilderness, the first of four more songs from The Grand Illusion. Original bassist Chuck Panazzo joined the band for Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man), a call to the youth to “Get up, (get up!) get back on your feet/ You’re the one they can’t beat and you know it”. Gowan spun his keyboard around, played it with his hands behind his back, and we all sang along as usual, raising our voices in exaltation. Miss America came along to blast any progressive nostalgia out of our heads with JY taking over on the vocals as the band tore into the hardest rocking song of the night and likely of Styx’ catalog. A pumping disco rhythm and angry guitars backed JY’s growling vocals about the “Apple of the public’s eye” and how she’s put on display and has her life taken away. The whole band just tore this song apart and left us happily exhausted.
For their encore Styx played Rockin’ The Paradise, showering us with confetti, the colorful backstage screen showing a theater marquee with scenes of the band performing from the past, followed by Renegade, with silhouetted horses and western themes, the audience out of their seats for the upbeat song about running from the “long arm of the law”. Lights flashed in our eyes, guitars squealed, keyboards rang and sang, confetti fell and minds were blown.
(Review and Live Photos by Bret Miller)