By Martine Ehrenclou
A good friend invited me to see Don Felder, Styx and REO Speedwagon for the “United We Rock” concert at the Greek Theater, June 24, 2017. This has become our ritual, taking each other to concerts for our birthdays. I wanted to see Don Felder, remembered a few good songs by Styx, but wasn’t that familiar with REO Speedwagon. But I knew the evening of live music would be a blast.
Off we went to the Greek Theater, an outdoor venue in Los Angeles. Our good seats surprised us both, as did the trail-blazing performances and quality musicianship. There’s something special about watching certain bands that have been around a long time. Some are clearly rooted in the music, in partnership with each other on stage, their musical skills honed.
Don Felder, long time member of the Eagles, opened the show. He was the guitarist for the Eagles for 27 years and co-wrote “Hotel California,” “Victim of Love,” and “Those Shoes,” among others.
Felder and his band put on a phenomenal show, performing ten songs, eight of which were Eagles’ tunes. A true entertainer and a guitarist not to be missed, Felder was in his element on stage. Beginning with “Already Gone” and “One of these Nights,” Felder then launched into such classics as “Witchy Woman,” and “The Long Run.” The band consists of Shem Von Schreck (bass and vocals,) Stevie Distanislao (drums and vocals,) Timothy Drury (keys and vocals,) and Greg Suran (guitar and vocals.)
Tommy Shaw from Styx joined Felder on stage with his Strat to play guitar and sing, “Take it Easy.” Felder and Shaw performed side by side, shortly moving onto the extended platform from the stage in the midst of the audience. They were having such a good time, you couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement. “Heartache Tonight” followed, showcasing Felder on guitar. An impressive performance.
Felder’s vocals were good, and the quality hadn’t faded with age. More than once though, I did feel the loss of Glenn Frey, his ghost ever present on songs such as “Take It Easy,” “Heartache Tonight,” and “Already Gone.”
When Felder brought out the double neck guitar, the crowd went crazy, including yours truly. We all knew what was coming–“Hotel California” and that iconic guitar solo. This was two minutes to remember, a moment of impact to see Don Felder, the originator of the solo, playing it himself. Tremendous comes to mind. See video below.
Dave Amato, guitarist for REO Speedwagon, an amazing player in his own right, joined Felder on the solo. It hit me then that we were witnessing history that night. The crowd knew it too and roared with appreciation for Felder and Mato. A memorable set indeed.
Styx emerged next. Again, with little reference for this band with the exception of appreciating a few of their hits years ago, I was struck by their performance. Tommy Shaw (lead vocals and lead guitar) and Lawrence Gowen (lead vocals and keyboards) were standout performers, in my opinion. Crazy talented, both of them. But that said, the rest of the band, James “JY” Young on vocals and guitar, Todd Sucherman on drums and percussion, Ricky Phillips on bass, guitar and vocals, and Chuck Panozzo on bass and vocals, were all excellent musicians.
A few players in the band have been replaced over the years due to loss of life, illness or differences, but I didn’t notice a hitch in their nearly flawless performance. Nothing short of excellent, Shaw and Gowen’s vocals were searing, on pitch.
Described as prog rock with some acoustic guitar, synth and elements of musical theater, this is a band to be reckoned with live on stage. Some extraordinary musicianship blasted Styx to the top that night as they played a number of their hits such as “Come Sail Away,” “Renegade,” “Fooling Yourself (angry Young Man),” “Light up,” “Too much Time on My Hands,” and six others.
Tommy Shaw started singing the song, “Renegade” acapella. No instruments, just his vocals. Then band members joined him with lovely harmonies. The entire audience then sang along. It was moving to say the least, and dare I say, beautiful. Just at the right moment, drums, keys, bass and guitar started the engine of that great, rockin’ tune we all recognize. The crowd ate it up.
Tommy Shaw is the band’s main front man and the quintessential rock lead vocalist/guitarist whose chops could not matched by anyone else the entire night. Clear vocals with a rich tone and impressive range, Shaw interacted with the audience as a musician who was comfortable in his own skin, a consummate performer with tremendous talent and years of experience.
Lawrence Gowen, on keys and vocals, joined the band in 1999. Not an enviable position to be in as Dennis DeYoung’s replacement, but if you ask me, they found stellar talent in Gowen. As a classically trained pianist, he performed the Queen hit, “Bohemian Rhapsody” on keys, completely solo, bathed in spotlight, the rest of the stage dark. It was stunning. His vocals didn’t rival those of the late, Freddie Mercury, but were good enough. Gowen added a strong musical theater element to the show. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. And I wasn’t the only one.
The band itself was having such a good time playing their music that their lively, and very much alive performance, was infectious. It was a bit magical. I wouldn’t hesitate to see Styx again live. They have a new album out, titled The Mission, released June 16 of this year.
Known for their pop-rock hits, REO Speedwagon finished up the night with Kevin Cronin on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Dave Amato on lead guitar and vocals, Bruce Hall on bass and vocals, Neil Doughty on keys, and Bryan Hitt on drums and percussion. They performed 13 of their hits and one new song, “Whipping Boy” that they have yet to record.
REO Speedwagon had a big impact on music and on the culture of Rock n’ Roll, especially with their hit album, Hi InFidelity. They opened their set of 14 songs with, “Don’t Let Him Go,” then “Keep Pushin’,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Time For Me To Fly,” and many more, all songs the audience was very familiar with and loved. With excellent musicianship and professionalism, they conveyed a sense of fun and purpose.
In an intimate moment, Cronin described to the audience how he woke up in the middle of the night with three piano chords in his head and ran to his home music studio to write a song that changed the future of the band. That song was, “Keep on Loving You,” from the album, Hi Fidelity. The crowd thundered their applause as Cronin led the tune.
I welcome your comments.