Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Don Felder brought their classic rock music to the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia on April 4, 2018. They embarked jointly last summer with their United We Rock tour. They all carry over 40 years of experience in the music industry and it definitely shows in their vocals, music, and stage presence to great effect.
Special guest Don Felder, formerly a member of The Eagles, was first to take the stage with his band. As one would expect, he performed Eagles tunes such as “Heartache Tonight,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” and more. What surprised fans was his decision to invite REO Speedwagon guitarist Dave Amato and Styx vocalist/guitarist Tommy Shaw to play alongside him. Shaw appeared early on for “Take It Easy.” Later, both Shaw and Amato emerged for a mesmerizing performance of “Hotel California” to close Felder’s set.
That isn’t to say Felder wasn’t already well equipped for the concert. He built up his band with talented musicians who have played with Stevie Nicks, Kenny Loggins, The B-52s, and Joan Jett. However, it’s always a delight to see famous lead vocalists and musicians collaborating and performing each other’s music, something that should be done more often at concerts. Felder’s vocals and guitar work were both amazing throughout that first hour of the show. His banner sported tropical trees, a fun theme but also a welcome visual as Virginia was still suffering with lingering winter temperatures.
Dave Amato returned for the second act along with his fellow members of REO Speedwagon: Kevin Cronin (vocals/guitar), Bruce Hall (vocals/guitar), Neal Doughty (keyboards), and Bryan Hitt (drums/percussion). The band was excited about celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of their studio album You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish. They entertained the crowd with their hits including “Take It on the Run,” “Keep Pushin’,” and “Keep on Loving You.” Most songs in the set list came from one of their popular albums, Hi Infidelity. Cronin also introduced new song called “Whipping Boy,” which may appear on a future album if they decide to make one. “Human beings have a natural desire to be treated as equals,” he explained about the track’s theme.
REO Speedwagon closed with a tribute to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, covering the single “Listen to Her Heart.” All in all, their set was solid, demonstrating that Cronin and Hall still have the vocal and guitar chops to keep a crowd wowed with their music. Let’s hope for another few years of touring by these gentlemen. I will say that having REO Speedwagon second in the evening’s line-up makes a huge difference. In August 2017, I attended the United We Rock concert in Bristow, VA, where REO Speedwagon was the closing act. Cronin kept it interesting by jumping up and down with his guitar and walking out onto the small section of the stage projecting into the audience, but his Bristow performance felt subdued compared to what transpired just minutes before Styx. Putting Styx at the end makes more sense with respect to their energy level, visuals (an additional platform), vocals, and tactility (lots of confetti).
The last act was Styx: James “JY” Young (lead vocals/guitars), Tommy Shaw (lead vocals/guitars), Todd Sucherman (drums, percussion), Lawrence Gowan (lead vocals/keyboards), and Ricky Phillips (guitar/vocals). Styx band founder Chuck Panozzo (bass/vocals), currently a part-time member, played at the Charlottesville concert as well. Like REO Speedwagon, Styx is celebrating the big 40 release anniversaries: last year for Grand Illusion and this year for Pieces of Eight. This tour features about half the songs from Grand Illusion and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” and “Renegade” from Pieces of Eight.
Shaw introduced tracks “Radio Silence” and “Gone Gone Gone” from their newest album, The Mission, which dropped last summer. The arrangements and vocals were reminiscent of older Styx songs, but still have a unique sound and power that attests to their creativity in reaching new ground. The stage was decked out like a spaceship (but not overly done) to fit the theme of the new album with silver platforms, a starry design on their banner, and outfitting Gowan’s keyboard as a control panel of sorts.
Gowan soloed a new instrumental piece from The Mission called “Khedive,” showcasing his manual dexterity and speed to great applause. He is arguably one of the most active keyboardists I’ve ever seen on stage. He used a rotating stand and executed a number of feats with his keyboard: walking and playing at the same time and even standing on the wrong side to do the fingering without slowing down.
Styx really understood how to keep the crowd pumped up from start to finish: using their strong vocals (those harmonies!), fabulous guitar playing, Gowan’s fancy footwork and a playful sing-along of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and covering every inch of the stage to engage the audience. Styx closed out their set with hits “Come Sail Away,” “Rockin’ the Paradise,” and “Renegade.”
Don Felder, REO Speedwagon, and Styx wrap up their tour together this month, but not to worry, they’ll be back on the road. Don Felder will launch a solo tour in October, starting in New Jersey. Both REO Speedwagon and Styx return to the stage for separate summer tours that looks promising, too. REO Speedwagon and Chicago kick off a tour beginning in California in June. Styx will play with Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and special guests Tesla at the end of May in CA. I recommend that you book sooner rather than later if any of these upcoming tours pique your interest.