In concert: We keep on loving Styx, REO and Night Ranger in Tampa
Not to sound too corny, but after seeing REO Speedwagon live for the third time in about 12 years, the only words that come to mind are: " When I said that I love you, I meant that I love you forever."
And I do still mean it. It's impossible not to still love REO. Even on nights when Kevin Cronin and the boys are a little off.
REO Speedwagon and Styx were the co-headliners Friday night in Tampa at the Ford Amphitheatre, but REO drew the short straw and went on first (well, after a short set by Night Ranger.) All three bands seemed to struggle a little with a sound system that left them sounding muddy and a little light on guitar. Here are the highlights:
STILL ROCKING AMERICA: Give Night Ranger credit. They seem to enjoy every second on stage, even with a 7 p.m. start time (and even if a few of their stories and bits seem a little rehearsed or stale.) "Every band has a na-na song," Jack Blades explained to the crowd after Secret of my Success. Yep, I heard the same schtick word for word a few years ago in Clearwater. Given their short allowance of time on stage, NR used it efficiently, rolling through the hits including Sing Me Away, When You Close Your Eyes, Don't Tell Me You Love Me and Rock in America. Tommy Shaw from Styx came onstage to sing along with Sister Christian, a song that has lost none of its magical powers over the years. If you can't sing along, then your soul is dead.
STILL MISSING DENNIS: I know founding lead singer Dennis DeYoung has been gone from the Styx lineup forever. But they're just not Styx without him. Case in point: Would the Chicago-bred band EVER have been forced to open with Miss America (James Young on vocals) in the old days? With only Young and Shaw remaining in the lineup, the band just feels like a really good tribute band.
TOO MUCH TIME ON THEIR HANDS: There's absolutely nothing wrong with Styx's musicianship. But it feels like they're trying just soooo hard to make fans like them. "Look! We're having fun! We love being on stage! We're happy! We're energetic! You can still like us! Please still like us!"
OBLIGATORY PDA WHINING: It's not a concert review without complaining at "that one couple," right? In this case, it was the heavily boozed up 45-year-old and his 23-year-old date two rows in front of me. By the time Styx got to Grand Illusion, they had broken out some naughty moves I haven't seen since Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman mixed it up in Dirty Dancing. And just like the movie, you get the feeling the night's gonna end with Baby needing to ask her dad to borrow some cash.
ONE LAST COMPLAINT .. OKAY TWO OF THEM: Styx keyboardist Lawrence Gowan is irritating. Big time. His keyboard is on a swivel so that he can spin it around 360 degrees. Why? So he shake his butt at times Bon Jovi-style. And so he can play the keys -- with his hands behind his back! Again, why? Plus, and I know I'm being a real ass here, but I can't get over the impression that he sounds too much like the Monkees' Davy Jones.
REO GETS REVVED UP: REO opened with Don't Let Him Go, an excellent choice. But they've reworked the song a little -- and not in a good way. It's a few beats slower and less frantic. But "frantic" is what makes the original so much fun. It's a screaming plea, not a plodding anthem. The new version sounds like it's on cold meds.
HEARD IT FROM A FRIEND WHO....: REO, Kevin and the boys seemed to really suffer from the sound system. The guitar just disappeared at times, leaving songs to be carried by the bass and drums. On top of that, REO seemed a beat too slow a few times. Was it intentional? One of the only songs to benefit from it was Take It On The Run, which always sounded too weepy to me on Hi Infidelity. A step slower, it's perfect, transforming itself into the ultimate public kiss-off to a cheating, heart-stomping woman. Who knew that nearly 30 years after hearing it for the first time -- I hated it back in the day -- today this would be the song I'd feel most personally.
MOST CHILLING MOMENT: A huge video screen behind the band worked its best magic when showing clips of REO through the ages. But nothing could top the moment when it turned the clock back to July 13, 1985 -- Live Aid. Hearing news reports of the event, and then a commentator say, "REO Speedwagon is about to play its No. 1 song." And then Can't Fight This Feeling starts. I still get chills thinking about it.
I KNOW IT HURTS TO SAY GOODBYE: Time for Me To Fly sounds as perfect today as it ever has. Can't we sing this before sporting events instead of the national anthem? I'd happily put my cap over my heart and cry like a baby. If I were REO, I'd have made this the final song of the night rather than the now-plodding Riding the Storm Out.
MOST PERFECT SONG EVER: This is going to sound like the ripest of hyperbole, but I want to make a case for Roll With The Changes being perhaps one of the most perfect songs every conceived. It's like a world-record, Olympic relay race, which each band member effortlessly handing off solos to each other. And seriously, when was the last time you found yourself playing "air keyboards" at a concert? Wow. If I had to pick just one REO song to listen to the rest of my life, this is it.
THE CROWD: Looked like a pretty full house at the Ford Amp last night, even though it was a "pavilion-only" show (no lawn seats open). I think I can safely say almost everyone there was in their 40s. As my companion so brilliantly observed at one point, "I think the entire audience is having a mid-life crisis." Hey, present company included! We're not that stuck up!
Despite its flaws, the REO, Styx, Night Ranger tour is still a great night of hits and seriously worth every penny for a ticket. Besides, it'd cost you serious coin to get this lineup of anthems off of iTunes. And what fun is it playing air keyboards alone?