It seems like Styx and REO Speedwagon tour every year, or at least every other year. Whether it’s Styx touring with Foreigner or REO Speedwagon touring with Chicago or Def Leppard, both bands seemingly hit the road every summer and make the same stop at Jones Beach Theater on their respective runs, together or apart. So it was no surprise that both classic rock bands went out on the road again this summer, only this time they hooked up for the United We Rock tour. That tour came to Jones Beach on Wednesday night, along with opening act Don Felder, formerly of The Eagles, and while these kinds of shows don’t sell out anymore, this one was worth the price of admission.
I’d never seen any of these acts live. I’ve always been a Styx fan, and even like some of guitarist Tommy Shaw‘s solo material, and who doesn’t like at least a few REO Speedwagon tunes? Don Felder is Don Felder, the man behind Hotel California and a host of other great Eagles songs, and needless to say he plays every single one he ever had a hand in writing as part of his live performance. None of them will ever sound the same without Don Henley singing them, the same way none of them will ever sound right without Don Felder playing guitar on tour with The Eagles, but this is where we are since Felder was unceremoniously given the good foot by Henley back in 2001.
Felder’s set list consisted almost entirely of Eagles tunes, which was never going to come as a surprise. Already Gone, Witchy Woman One of These Nights, Take It Easy (with help from Tommy Shaw) and Life in the Fast Lane were among the well-known Eagles hits Felder offered up before closing with Hotel California, and of course he broke out the famous double-neck Gibson EDS-1275 on which the song was written for that one. That guitar sure is a beautiful thing, and Don Felder can still play with the best of them. It’s weird hearing someone other than Don Henley singing Eagles songs despite hearing Joe Walsh sing many of the same tunes a few years ago when he opened up for Bob Seger, but Felder has never been a slouch and his set was an absolute blast.
Up next was Kevin Cronin and company, better known as REO Speedwagon. I’m really only familiar with a few of their tunes – Take It on the Run, Can’t Fight This Feeling, Time for Me to Fly, Keep On Loving You and Roll With the Changes – and the rest of the band’s setlist was completely foreign to me, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying their performance. REO has obviously declined in popularity over the last couple decades, and the guys have gotten old as hell, so it was a pleasant surprise to see, and hear, and they’re still really good live. The thing about what I lovingly refer to as “geezer rock” is that there’s really not much showmanship going on, as bands that have been around as long as REO Speedwagon are full of old dudes who can’t run all over the place anymore, but there were still cool moments when Cronin made great use of the stage extension that took him beyond the barricade and into the crowd as he dancing around a little bit and interacted with the audience maybe a little more than I had anticipated.
Cracking the joke after the third or fourth song, Cronin said that he knew everyone came to see them because they were surprised the guys in the band were still alive. That’s how long REO has been around, and while they’ve definitely lost a step or two over the years as age catches up with them, there’s no denying the fact that they can still put on one hell of a show. Aside from the tunes I already mentioned being familiar with, which were all part of the show, REO offered up another 8 numbers including Don’t Let Him Go, Whipping Boy, Like You Do, Back on the Road Again and Ridin’ the Storm Out.
I’ve gotta be honest here, I wasn’t expecting that much from REO Speedwagon. I was expecting a decent show and was pleasantly surprised to hear that Kevin Cronin largely still has his voice and doesn’t sound much different than he did 30 years ago when a lot of the band’s popular tunes were recorded. The group closed with the obvious – Roll With the Changes – and after 13 songs it was time for them to fly. I had tempered my expectations and ended up being blown away by REO Speedwagon, so props to them for still having it after all these years.
And then we were all finally welcomed to the grand illusion as the night’s main attraction, Styx, were set to hit the stage for the next hour and 20 minutes or so. I’ve been a Styx fan for as long as I can remember, and this is what I came for. They’ve got a new album, The Mission, and opened up with one from that titled Gone Gone Gone before going right into the hits – Blue Collar Man, The Grand Illusion and Lady – before eventually playing Fooling Yourself and Too Much Time on My Hands. The one tune I wanted to hear that was not part of the setlist, maybe somewhat surprisingly, was Mr. Roboto. I get that the album was never that well received and maybe they’ve moved on from playing that one live, but Mr. Roboto would have been nice to hear rather than the very brief instrumental Khedive from the new album.
This was essentially a “best of” or greatest hits show with a couple new tracks mixed in, as the rest of the band’s set included Light Up, Miss America and the song everyone knows Styx by, Come Sail Away. The encore, also somewhat surprisingly, featured Rockin’ The Paradise and Renegade to end the night. Now, let’s be real, I grew up listening to Styx when Dennis DeYoung was the lead singer, and every one of their songs I’ve ever liked was written and recorded with DeYoung. I’d never heard them live before, and while Lawrence Gowen, who has been with the band since 1999, can certainly handle the band’s hits, they sounded a little weird to be nonetheless. That’ll happen, though, when you’re hearing something “new” for the first time after being so used to the “old”, original version.
With that said, though, the last original members – JY and Chuck Panozzo, along with Tommy Shaw who has been the band’s second guitarist since 1975 and sang on quite a few of their songs over their career, are absolutely remarkable even as they push 70, Shaw being the youngest of that trio at 63, and Gowen can certainly handle his keyboard and lead vocal duties at 60. It was different hearing all my favorite Styx songs live for the first time and also for the first time without Dennis DeYoung, but different doesn’t mean bad. Different, in this case, meant good. Very good, in fact. By the time Renegade was over, I was as happy as I could have expected on an otherwise boring Wednesday in the middle of August. This show ended up being really, really good, and it makes me want to see more bands from days gone by – not that I didn’t want to see them anyway, I grew up on this stuff and I’ll always love it – but this show left me with something of an urgency to see as many old timers as possible, because it is going to be over one day. Whether the bands retire or members die, many of the bands I grew up with won’t be around much longer, and Styx blowing the proverbial roof off of Jones Beach Theater just makes me want to enjoy as many of these shows as I can, while I can.
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