Styx and R.E.O. Speedwagon are no strangers to sharing the same highways and stages together. On Saturday, June 24th, they made what was the fourth stop on their 2017, United We Rock tour at the Greek Theater. Joining forces once again, along with special guest, former long time Eagles guitarist, Don Felder, they filled the cool evening air of Griffith Park with the sounds of the 70’s and early 80’s.
With the sun already sunken below the crest of the hill that creates the natural amphitheater of the Greek, Felder takes the stage. His band, consisting of Kasim Sulton, bass guitar, Greg Suran, guitar, Stevie DiStanislao, drums and Timothy Drury on keyboards, knock out Eagles tune after Eagles tune. Worked into the middle of the set is Felder’s 1982 movie soundtrack gem, Heavy Metal. Felder brings on Styx’s Tommy Shaw to help out on the Eagles’ classic Take it Easy. Shaw starts the tune playing guitar and providing backing vocals, then switches to a banjo for the rambling outro to the tune. Felder also solicits R.E.O.’s Dave Amato to assist on guitar for Hotel California. All in all, Felder, though not being a lead vocalist in the Eagles, creates a good representation of the songs. Along with his band of professional musicians, Felder and company put on an enjoyable concert of Eagles music.
With twilight settling in over the outdoor theater, the stage comes alive and Styx begins their set with a courageous choice. They open with Gone, Gone, Gone off their new album The Mission, released just a week earlier. Then the hits roll out, one after the other, Blue Collar Man, The Grand Illusion, Lady, and the list goes on. Guitarists Shaw and James “J.Y.” Young play with youthful enthusiasm as they grind out the signature riffs to the band’s classics. Lawrence Gowan handles keyboards and shares lead vocal duties. Gowan bounces about the stage, saunters around his rotating keyboard and plays behind his back, using his instrument as a posing platform. Bassist Ricky Phillips animates the set by playing at all corners of the stage, in particular, the elevated platform behind the drums rocking out above the kit. Young handles the lead vocals on the hard-edged Miss America. Drummer Todd Sucherman takes on the rolls that are a signature of the Styx sound with ease.
Original bassist and founding member Chuck Panozzo joins the band on stage for Fooling Yourself. Gowan treats the audience to a piano interlude before the finale. After a brief solo, he implores the audience to share alternating vocals of the operatic portion of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. The piano interlude continues with the first verse and one chorus of the Beatles’ Golden Slumbers, transitioning into the opening of the finale, Come Sail Away, in which Panozzo rejoins the band. For an encore, they treat the now rabid fans to energetic versions of Rockin’ the Paradise and Renegade. Throughout the set, Styx has the crowd singing along with them as they churn out song after song with fan familiar lyrics. One gets the sense that there are ten more songs they could have played, with which the attendees could have sung right along.
Darkness has taken full hold of the hills above Los Angeles when Styx finishes their set. R.E.O. Speedwagon assumes a very dark stage, with the drums and bass intro of Don’t Let Him Go. When the entire band joins in the lights come up, revealing a very roomy and clean stage. R.E.O. moves into one of their earlier classics, Keep Pushin’ . Guitarist Dave Amato faithfully replicates the riff to this and all the other R.E.O. hits, which he has been doing in the band for the better part of 30 years. Keyboardist Neal Doughty, moves from his organ across the stage to the grand piano for Can’t Fight This Feeling, which his fingers introduce on the ivories.
R.E.O. Speedwagon earned a reputation as a hard-working, blue-collar band with midwestern roots. The group toiled on the road for years before commercial success finally tracked them down. One of the highlights of the set is Back on the Road Again. Bassist Bruce Hall, who wrote the anthem about the romantic pitfalls of ceaseless touring, handles lead vocals to a searing, Amato guitar riff. Brian Hitt approaches the drums with finesse while providing hard-hitting time keeping. Hitt’s contribution is most notable during the finale, the live favorite, Ridin’ the Storm Out, thumping out the fills between the verses and choruses. All throughout the show, Kevin Cronin, who of course handles lead vocals, acoustic guitar and piano, moves about the stage, and charms the crowd with his finely honed stage presence. Countless years on the road have proven to be the ace in the hole for R.E.O. Speedwagon, who can still drive home a set of classics and leave a crowd screaming for more.
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