Touring under the title of “United We Rock,” REO Speedwagon, Styx and Don Felder proved they were indeed willing to do just that right from the start on Tuesday night at USANA Amphitheatre.
Felder’s opening set featured walk-on appearances by members of both Styx and REO at various times, who stepped on stage to help spice up the proceedings and set the tone for an evening that featured just shy of four hours of music highlighting the hit material of all three acts.
Felder, the former Eagles guitarist, casually strolled on stage in the bright sunlight just prior to 7 p.m. and launched into “Already Gone.” The first song featured a couple technical glitches as the main stage speakers cut out several times for spaces of a few seconds at a time. It served as only a slight distraction, and the problem was quickly corrected and fine the rest of the evening.
Felder showed off his sense of humor when introducing songs, telling the crowd before “Heavy Metal (Hitching a Ride)” that “if you remember the movie, you probably weren’t high enough.” He also dedicated “Witchy Woman” to “all the women who have never had a song dedicated to them before.”
Outside of “Heavy Metal,” a solo release from Felder, the rest of his 10-song set was all Eagles material. His vocals may not be to the lofty level of that band’s vocal tandem of Don Henley and Glenn Frey, but they were smooth and recognizable in the grand Eagles mix of things. Songs like “One of These Nights,” “Seven Bridges Road,” “The Long Run,” “Heartache Tonight” and “Life in the Fast Lane” all sounded great in the hands of Felder and his band.
Which brings us to the walk-ons. Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw joined Felder on “Take It Easy,” providing electric guitar, some lead and backing vocals, and playing banjo during the latter couple minutes of the song. Watching Felder and Shaw walk out to the end of a small extension ramp into the audience to jam on guitar and banjo respectively, it was obvious just how much fun they were having. That type of camaraderie between touring acts is always a welcome bonus for the audience.
That bonus was multiplied a few songs later when Felder closed his set with the iconic “Hotel California,” a song which he basically wrote all the music for when he was in the Eagles. For that song, Felder was joined by Styx drummer Todd Sucherman on tambourine and REO Speedwagon lead guitarist Dave Amato. Watching Felder and Amato trade off the scorching lead guitar licks during the outro solo was one of the signature moments of the evening.
Styx and REO Speedwagon are rotating the closing and middle slots on the co-headline tour, and it was Styx holding down the second spot on Tuesday. The band rocketed into its set with a fiery rendition of “Gone, Gone, Gone,” the lead single off Styx’s new album, “The Mission.” The record is the band’s first original studio album in 14 years — and it was no small feat to get several cuts into the constraints of a time-limited co-headline set without feeling like you’re missing out on the hit songs everyone expects.
Instead of distracting from the proceedings — as more casual fans of groups often complain — the new songs actually seemed to give the band an added level of energy and purpose. By its very nature, “Gone, Gone, Gone” is such a natural show opener that it’s hard to imagine it anywhere else in the set. The band also introduced second single “Radio Silence” a bit later, and it went over extremely well. One of the true standout tracks on “The Mission,” “Radio Silence” translated well to the stage and helped whet one’s appetite for hearing more “Mission” material in future Styx tours.
“Every once in a while, these songs come raining down out of the blue atmosphere,” Shaw explained to the audience while introducing “Radio Silence.” “And if you’re lucky enough to write them down, then you have a new album like we do.”
There was no shortage of hit material represented, and the band highlighted its more rock side with anthemic tunes like “Blue Collar Man,” “The Grand Illusion,” “Light Up,” “Miss America,” “Come Sail Away,” “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Renegade,” the collective of which also served to showcase the band’s three-throated lead vocalist dynamic of Shaw, James Young and Lawrence Gowan.
Few bands appear to have more pure fun on stage than Styx. No matter where you look, there’s always some kind of action going on up on stage.For example, at one point Shaw began crossing the stage while in the middle of his guitar solo in “Too Much Time on My Hands.” As he passed Gowan, who happened to be posing at the time with one leg up on his rotating keyboard pedestal, Shaw stopped and buffed up Gowan’s bright red sneaker with his right hand, all while continuing to bend the notes to his solo with his left hand before continuing on his way. There’s a lot of little intra-band interactions like that during the course of a show, if you’re on the lookout for them.
While the three lead vocalists draw much of the attention, one would be remiss to not take the opportunity to appreciate Styx’s rhythm section. Sucherman is one of the most respected drummers in rock — you can find him on the current cover of Modern Drummer magazine — and watching him work behind his kit is always a pleasure. Bassist Ricky Phillips is also an incredible talent and adds a lot to the live Styx show.
And on Tuesday, that was not all.
“I’d like to give a shoutout to every parent who has let a kid start a band in their basement,” said Shaw. “It may be painful, but it may be worth it.”
He then introduced original bassist Chuck Panozzo, who started the band in his basement along with his twin brother John and original keyboardist Dennis DeYoung. Panozzo, who performed with the band for his typical three numbers, has various health issues which typically limit him to occasional unannounced appearances. In a post-show chat, however, he said that other than just a few shows, he is expecting to be on the road for nearly all of the “United We Rock” tour.
Another set highlight was Gowan’s piano solo. He opened it up with a slightly abbreviated version of “Khedive,” a mostly instrumental piano dusting off of “The Mission,” before touching on segments of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Golden Slumbers” that had the crowd exuberantly singing along.
In fact, the audience was so engaged singing — or at least attempting to — the operatic parts of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” that Gowan had to cut them off at one point.
“Any more and you’d just be showing off — and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would be jealous,” he said.
As always, his solo segment led into the opening piano strains of “Come Sail Away,” which closed the main set. Gowan was also extremely entertaining with animated dancing and rock posturing during “Rockin’ the Paradise” in the encore segment.
Styx always puts on a great show — and Tuesday’s performance seemed to take things up another notch.
REO Speedwagon also delivered a hit-centric, high-energy 1-hour, 20-minute set. Frontman Kevin Cronin was as frenetic as ever — although perhaps not quite as talkative as usual. (The shorter set time no doubt helped contribute to that.)
Songs like “Don’t Let Him Go,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Tough Guys,” “Golden Country,” “Take It on the Run” and “Time For Me to Fly,” showed off the bands ability to both rock and slow things down a tad.
Amato is a great lead guitarist and quite fun to watch. Neal Doughty (keys) and Bruce Hall (bass) are original members still with the band, and the lineup is rounded out by drummer Bryan Hitt.
REO hit the backstretch of its set with Hall singing lead on the dynamic “Back on the Road Again,” which was followed by the always amazing “Ridin’ the Storm Out.”
REO returned to the stage for encores of “Keep on Loving You” and “Roll With the Changes.”
The “United We Rock” tour is still in its early stages. Tuesday’s show was only the sixth stop, with 26 more dates scheduled across the country.