It was a truly beautiful day in on the riverfront in Bangor, Maine on Sunday, July 8, 2012. The weather was perfect for an evening outdoor gig. Not too hot, with a nice breeze and sunlight lasting until the evening. It was appropriate that The Midwest Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, a triple-bill featuring Ted Nugent, Styx, and Reo Speedwagon, had pulled into town on the last night of its tour. Hell, during the Styx set a freight train went by on the nearby tracks as if on cue.
Ted Nugent, your slightly nutty loudmouth uncle who hunts, was on fine form. His band was as tight as you would expect. They blew through some of his classics like “Stranglehold”, “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” and “Cat Scratch Fever”. To make sure we got the point, a woman got up from the audience and danced away in her tight jeans. Unlike one of his headline shows there was no bow and arrow, but he did give a shout-out to each individual branch of the military. As you might expect, he said a few words about the state of the country too, but kept it refreshingly short.
Next up we had the mighty Styx machine and boy, were they on form. The crowd looked as if they were really here to see Styx and got well into it. They band dipped into their greatest hits and wowed the crowd with their current lineup. Lawrence Gowan’s voice was in great form and, together with famous spinning keyboard, he played the master of ceremonies oh so well. For a treat, and not at all unexpected, Nugent joined Tommy Shaw on stage for one Damn Yankees track, though alas it was not “High Enough”, but “Coming of Age”. The visuals during the Styx set were quite impressive and lent a progressive feel to their music. Styx was by far the highlight of the night. There were people from Quebec down to see Gowan (a Quebecker) as it was the closest gig to their home province.
Styx were followed by REO Speedwagon, who bizarrely were headliners. They delivered a competent, if at times limp, performance that seemed to miss the upbeat vibe of the crowd. Kevin Cronin told a story regarding the song “Golden Country” about finding new meaning in it, which didn’t work and stopped the flow of the show. No one really cared and it was a bizarre pause in the music. The fact that the song is not that well-known and nothing special didn’t help much. Even their hits like “Can’t Fight this Feeling”, “Take it on the Run” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out” didn’t seem to connect as well as the previous two acts. So limp was the performance that from about halfway through there was a steady flow of people leaving the gig and heading home.
Overall it was a damn good evening of American blue-collar rock and roll, but it was Styx’s night. The beer was flowing and the pretzels were getting eaten. I can think of no better way to spend a summer evening in Maine.