Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review of The Midwest Rock 'N' Roll Express Tour – May 6 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, California


I am not the world’s biggest fan of Styx, REO Speedwagon or Ted Nugent, but I like their music well enough. And that is what the Midwest Rock ‘N’ Roll Express Tour is all about – I got a chance to see all 3 acts on one bill without having to put up with any of them for more than an hour or so.

I caught their May 6 show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, which is definitely not my first choice of concert venues. It is a great outdoor amphitheatre in beautiful Griffith Park, and there are really not many bad seats. But getting your car parked is a bear, and usually your car gets boxed 2 or 3 vehicles deep and it can take an hour or two to get it sprung. This time I got really lucky with parking, which made the whole evening go smoother.

I am going to give the Greek Theatre thumbs up for communicating so well before the concert. They sent an e-mail out with details about the facility, and included a schedule of when the acts would be appearing.

Additional props go out the bands, their crews and the facility management, who made sure that all three bands (and the opening act) started EXACTLY on time. Amazing!

The show kicked off with Stan Bush who played a 15-minute solo acoustic set, which had to be a little nerve-wracking in a large venue that was waiting for Ted Nugent to come on stage. Stan did well, and the crowd seemed to appreciate his work.

Then came the Nuge who led off with “Wango Tango”, and he met all of my expectations. His 50-minute set was filled with shrieking guitar calisthenics, a thumping backline, a dancing girl, some thinly-veiled racism and plenty of profanity. He worked in all of the popular tunes, but then again there was nothing that was released after 1977, so he had better know these songs by now. I was glad they chose to include the Motown classic “Hey Baby”, as well as one of my all-time favorite songs, “Stranglehold” (quite romantic).

Nugent’s band was a hoot. Mick Brown’s drums and Greg Smith’s bass were tight, and it was a pleasure to see true professionals at work. I was super-impressed by Derek St. Holmes on guitar and lead vocals. He has an incredibly strong voice and is a great showman. But, looking back at it all, 30 minutes would have been enough Ted Nugent for me.

The crew only took 15 minutes to cart off Nugent’s stuff and set the stage for REO Speedwagon, who had a more complicated stage, light and video show. They had a Hammond and a grand piano to fit on the stage too, so that took up some of the space that Nugent’s massive amplifier display had previously occupied.

REO Speedwagon got 20 minutes more than Ted, which was cool with me because their music does not all sound the same. They got things started with “Take it on the Run” which ended up being a shaky start for their set. They played the tune at a little slower than normal tempo, and Kevin Cronin’s voice was not warmed up yet. I was a little worried after this song.

But, REO pulled it all together. They worked though all of the “Keep on” songs (Pushin’, Loving You and Rolling), and again, I was very impressed with the professionalism of the band, and they nailed all of their parts. As Cronin warmed up he started sounding like the good old days, which was a relief to me. There were a few times where it seemed like the sound guys messed up (dropped guitar solo and vocals), but overall it was a strong set.

Speedwagon left the stage and came back for an encore of “Ridin’ the Storm Out” which already had pre-canned video and sound effects running. What if nobody cheered and clapped? Would they have just walked off with their tails between their legs and gone home? I think it is time to let the obligatory encore go away. Just add another song to the set, guys – it is a good one, after all.

After a 25 minute break, Styx hit the stage with an even fancier stage set up and a lot more audience interest. It was obvious that this was the part of the show that a lot of the crowd was waiting for, and I don’t think that anybody went home disappointed.

The band played almost nothing but hits, with “Blue Collar Man”, “Grand Illusion” and “Too Much Time on my Hands” starting things off. Tommy Shaw and James Young were as strong as ever on vocals and guitar (Shaw was a bit stronger, even), and Lawrence Gowan was fabulous on keyboards and vocals, He made me forget all about that other guy that has been erased from the history page on the Styx website. Lawrence did a nice job of working the crowd during a classic rock interlude in the middle of the set. Man, his voice is sure a lot like that other guy’s.

They added in a b-side, “Man in the Wilderness” to keep things real, but they probably could have left it out and not lost anything from their performance. They have more han enough real hits to fill up an hour for their die-hard fans.

As with the other bands on the bill, the rhythm section was strong, with Todd Sucherman on drums and Ricky Philips on bass. I was glad to see that Styx remembered their roots and brought out founding member Chuck Panazzo on bass for a few songs. If only his brother was still around.

Styx closed out the evening with two encore songs: “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Renegade”. I should have seen these coming from a mile away. “Paradise” was their opening song for years, and “Renegade” is always a crowd favorite. Well done, boys!

To answer a question I had asked myself on the way to the Greek: “No, there was no Damn Yankees reunion with Ted Nugent and Tommy Shaw.” Oh well.

The Midwest Rock ‘N’ Roll Express will be performing another 20 dates over the next two months throughout the Midwest and east coast, so chances are good they will be performing near you. Check them out if you get a chance!


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