REO Speedwagon, Styx and Loverboy – Live! FivePoint Amphitheater

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There is a plot of land that is little more than a stone’s throw from the convergence of the 5 and 405 freeways.  On the very same soil where Marine pilots took to the skies to hone their skills in preparation for fighting the Cold War, the FivePoint Amphitheater served as a sort of portal back to some of most contentious days of that phantom conflict.  The date was July 16th, 2022, but it seemed like it could have been the summer of 1981.  That year was a pivotal moment for the three groups who would perform for the very full crowd.  ’s debut was released in the waning months of 1980, but would hit its stride in the ensuing year.  Chicago rockers , had already had considerable success with their previous three records.  That year they solidified their place in rock history, with their fourth straight multi-platinum record and a triumphant world tour.  As for , they spent nearly a decade earning their daily bread, not to mention a relentless reputation as a blue-collar touring band.  Hi-Infidelity, released late in 1980 would set the stage for the following year to be their breakout year, as well as probably securing a comfortable retirement for the band members.

’s Mike Reno

With the sun sinking toward the top of the bleacher section, Canada’s Loverboy takes the stage.  Basked in the orange glow of the Orange County pre-sunset, the boys from up-north start a bit slow.  Perhaps due to performing in the daylight, they seem a bit sluggish.  Vocalist Mike Reno seems to have some trouble hitting the higher notes that were once such a staple of the group’s sound.  The instrumentalists are not terribly active, although they sound great.  Guitarist Paul Dean, who is more of a contemporary of  the 1960’s guitar icons, then those who rose to prominence in the 80’s, faithfully reproduces the tones of their hits.  Ken Sinnaeve, who is the only non-classic lineup member, is the most active of the musicians, which is odd for a bass player.  Doug Johnson of course is pretty much tied to his keyboards, and gives the presentation the signature textures from the records.

About midway through their set, the sun finally drops below the top of the bleachers, and the energy appears to instantly change.  Crowd participation kicks up the mojo during the title track from their 1985 release, Lovin’ Every Minute Of It As they rev up the crowd with the final three tunes of their eight song set, the arena is about half full.  Smattered throughout are small clumps of women standing and dancing and throwing the high one at the band.  You can almost picture these ladies four decades ago, wearing Dolphin shorts and tube tops, and doing the same dance, albeit maybe a bit more limberly.  The Vancouverites hit their stride with their breakout hit Turn Me Loose and the intensity lifts again for the finale.  What is probably their most recognizable song, Working For The Weekend, has the entire audience standing and singing along to the chorus, as the stage lights begin to become more effective in the dusk.  One thing to mention is the performance of drummer Matt Frenette.  His rock solid rhythm, energy and loyalty to the original beats were remarkable.

’ Tommy Shaw

As twilight sets in, kicks off their time in the spotlight with the overture to their 2021 release Crash Of The Crown.  In addition to The Fight Of Our Lives, a brief two-minute introduction, they would play three others from the latest, including the title track, Sound The Alarm and Lost At Sea, mingled throughout heir set.  More than just a nostalgia act, the band which celebrates its 50th year as a recording group this year continues to create new music.  Led by classic lineup members, guitarists James Young and Tommy Shaw, the group welcomes a new comer to their lineup in the person of  fellow guitarist, Will Evankovich.  Evankovich produced, as well as co-wrote much of their last two albums.  Presumably, there is a musical connection which made sense to have him join as a member.  The band’s sole original member, Chuck Panozzo is also along for the ride, joining the band on bass for such classics as Fooling Yourself, Too Much Time On My Hands and Come Sail Away.  Although playing new material, sticking with the theme, the pride of Chicago treats the now full outdoor theater to songs from the spectrum of their hey day.

Styx

Styx’ James Young

Rounding out the lineup are the three “new guys.”  Todd Sucherman on drums, who at their last reformation, replaced original drummer John Panozzo after his death, is a consummate pro behind the kit.  Sucherman drives the classic hits with their original feel, while adding the virtuoso prowess to make his own mark on them.  Of course there is the master of ceremonies, the ring leader if you will, Lawrence Gowan.  Gowan not only is a master ivory tickler, while playing with his back to the keyboard, mind you, he also handles the vocals for the songs originally handled by Dennis DeYoung, and very capably, I might add.  Ever the showman, Gowan circles his platform that holds his rotating console, all while revving up the crowd.  Lastly there is bassist Ricky Phillips.  The newcomer, whose tenure is now nearly 20 years, holds a pretty impressive pedigree.  He has done stints with The Babys, Bad English and Coverdale/Page.  His vocal abilities mesh perfectly in the Styx harmonies.  By the time they reach their two encore numbers, both crowd and performers are in sync.  With an energetic rendition of Mr. Roboto followed by the Shaw sung Renegade, you’d probably find most attendees wishing their set was a bit longer.  In spite of that, having witnessed this band three times in the last five years, they hit the nail on the head every time!  Besides, who said nostalgia was a bad thing?

At around 9:30 pm, in full darkness, make their appearance, to the delight of the Southern California crowd.  The vast and sparse stage is accented by platforms and towers containing LED lights.  The setup gives ample room for singer Kevin Cronin to roam and play to all segments of the audience, when he is not perched behind his microphone stand.  The band gets the ball rolling with a true oldie, from the group’s first album and Cronin’s first with the band, Music Man.  Next is the ballad Take It On The Run, one of the mega-hits from 1981.  The band kicks it up a notch on Keep Pushin’, that has guitarist Dave Amato, who replaced Gary Richrath thirty-plus years ago, kicking out the iconic riff.  Neal Doughty, the only original member of the band, rarely ventures out from his roost behind the organ.  He makes one exception to cross to the opposite side of the drum kit to sit at the baby grand piano for Can’t Fight This Feeling.

REO Speedwagon’s Bryan Hitt

As the show moves into its back half, The Speedwagon keeps the hits coming.  Bryan Hitt, the groups drummer for thirty-some years, thumps out the pace to Don’t Let Him Go from behind his monstrous kit.  Bruce Hall pulls lead vocal duties in addition to playing bass on the rocking Back On The Road Again, from Nine Lives.  A set staple, Hall laments heading out on tour, while simultaneously and unapologetically informing his woman that the life of a troubadour calls.  The show reaches its climax with the iconic Ridin’ The Storm Out, the live version of which probably put them initially on the map and is a crowd pleaser.  After a brief intermission, the boys from Champaign slow it down with what is their most recognizable tune, Keep On Loving You.  In typical Southern California style, the thinning is lifted up once more with Roll With The Changes.  This evening is over, but the tour dubbed Live & Unzoomed  goes on until the third week of August.  If you feel the need to step back to 1981, catch up with this tour.

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CLICK HERE to see REO SPEEDWAGON photo gallery.

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CLICK HERE to see LOVERBOY photo gallery.

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