Styx and REO Speedwagon
with Don Felder
MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheater / Tampa, FL • 7.18.17
by Christopher Long
It’s long been said, “Only the strong survive.” And in the topsy-turvy world of rock and roll, that adage certainly holds true. Hair-sprayed poster boys of the ’80s were exterminated by flannel-clad kingpins of the ’90s, which were consumed in short order by the AOR contenders of the new millennium. Oddly, 40-some years later, it’s the feel-good acts birthed during the shag-covered ’70s that continue to generate consistent blockbuster box office business. Sophisticated fans seeking more “bang for the buck” flock to appealing retro package tours such as this summer’s successful “United We Rock” excursion – a collective that partners Illinois-bred chart-busters, Styx and REO Speedwagon, with Florida native, Don Felder.
To say that Felder’s 7pm performance was laid back would be to overstate his personal level of California-style energy. “Most of my memories of the ’70s and ’80s have a smoky haze,” the former Eagles guitar ace confessed, from behind a pair of mirror shades to the throngs of enthusiastic early birds.
Along with his world-class, four-piece combo – an ensemble that featured renowned bassist Kasim Sulton (Todd Rundgren, Meatloaf, Joan Jett, Utopia), the 69-year-old music vet had even the venue’s attendants singing and dancing in the aisles. Can SOMEBODY help me find Section 387, Row XX, Seat 5 – PLEASE? Wowing the faithful with studio-perfect recreations of his best-known hits, including “One of these Nights,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” and a mesmeric rendition of “Seven Bridges Road,” Felder also had a few surprises up his sleeve – introducing his “good buddy,” Styx guitarist, Tommy Shaw onstage to play banjo on “Take it Easy,” and REO guitarist, Dave Amato for the iconic set-closer, “Hotel California.”
A torrential South Florida downpour soon threw an unwelcomed monkey wrench into the show’s timetable. The cautionary, hour-long delay saw amphitheater GM, David Harb commandeering the mic, more than once. Calm, cool and reassuring, Harb apprised the audience of weather and show time updates, as well as inviting and encouraging those with uncovered Lawn Section tickets to seek shelter from the storm in the pavilion’s covered Reserved Section. #MVP
By 9pm-ish, founding REO Speedwagon keyboardist, Neal Doughty had finally led his five-man troupe onto the stage – opening the show with the “Don’t Let Him Go” / “Keep Pushin'” double-whammy.
Nursing a serious-sounding case of laryngitis, frontman, Kevin Cronin spared his strained vocal chords from gratuitous banter. Sporting tinted, black-rimmed fashion glasses and a sparkly vest, the white-haired, 65-year-old singer / songwriter resembled a cross between a glam version of Mr. Blackwell and a rock and roll version of Mr. Rogers, as he greeted fans with messages written on hand-held placards. HELLO TAMPA!
Cronin’s ailment, however, was merely a speed bump, as the abbreviated Speedwagon show was a spectacular-looking, high-tech, high-energy production – one brimming with biggies – from such Casey Kasem anointed classics as “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Keep on Loving You” and the thunderous crowd sing-along, “Take it on the Run” to longtime FM staples, including “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” “Time for Me to Fly,” “Roll with the Changes” and bassist Bruce Hall’s 1979 opus, “Back on the Road Again.”
Despite speaking much of his vocal parts by set’s end, Cronin scored high marks for his steadfast professionalism, not only in terms of the overwhelming audience response, but also from those gathered in the venue’s media / press area following the show. In fact, one Central Florida music journalist was overheard commenting, “Kevin Cronin on his worst day is still better than most everybody else on their best day.”
From turbo-charged teens, pumping their fists, center stage to super-moist soccer moms, drooling over at “you know who’s” side of the stage to lifelong diehards scattered throughout, wielding butane torches and cellular devices, fans were more than amped for Styx to hit the stage shortly after 10pm.
“Overture,” the instrumental lead-in track from the band’s acclaimed new record, The Mission, served as a perfect pre-recorded intro to the arena-sized spectacle – a 75-minute cavalcade featuring fan favorites, old and new.
Buried behind a massive wall of walnut-burst toms and brilliant-finish cymbals, longtime drummer, Todd Sucherman was barely seen, yet his presence provided the foundation – the very power source for Styx’s platinum-selling playlist.
Perennial partners, singer / songwriter / guitarists, James “JY” Young and Tommy Shaw teamed with bass stalwart Ricky Phillips to form a ferocious, sweat-soaked alliance – holding down the frontline through such hard core anthems as “Blue Collar Man,” “The Grand Illusion,” “Lorelei,” and “Miss America.”
Dressed in standard black slacks and a striking gold lamé jacket, Young proved engaging – conveying to the crowd sanitized accounts of the band’s exploits in the “old days” – transparent confessions that led into the 1975 album cut, “Light Up.” Seemingly less than savvy regarding modern-day music formats, the 67-year-old founding guitarist also announced, “We’ve got a new album, or CD, or whatever you wanna call it.”
For his part, Shaw was equally charming – sharing personal stories of his mother’s home cooking and unique recollections of first joining the band back in 1975. “Thanks for sticking around tonight,” he offered sincerely. “Thanks for sticking around all these years.”
Shedding the “new guy” stigma (finally) after a near 20-year tenure with the band, Lawrence Gowan delivered the goods with savage intensity. Sporting a striking new “Elvis Munster”-style coif, the celebrated Canadian singer / songwriter / keyboardist “owned” not only the DeYoung era classics, but also such newer gems as “Gone Gone” and “Radio Silence.” His solo vocal / piano renditions of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” made for chilling audience sing-alongs and provided a sweet segue into the epic, “Come Sail Away.”
An estimated 12,000 fans, plunking-down hard-earned cash to experience an authentic rock show – legendary artists, knocking out nuthin’ but hits and offering nuthin’ but value. “Only the strong survive,” indeed!