Styx and REO Speedwagon brought their brands of midwestern rock to the shell at FLPAC last night. Both bands trace their roots to the state of Illinois, Styx getting its start in Chicago and REO at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Styx opened the show. Keyboardist Dennis DeYoung is no longer with the band, having left over creative differences in the early ’90s. His replacement, Lawrence Gowan, is more than capable, making full use of a wireless keyboard that spins 360 degrees on a post.
Gowan has a more flashy stage presence than DeYoung, and his vocals on DeYoung staples like “Lady” are sufficiently DeYoung-like not to offend old time Styx fans. The band treated the audience to a set focusing on the late ’70s and early ’80s albums “The Grand Illusion,” “Pieces of Eight” and “Cornerstone.” A clever 18 song medley provided snippets from other albums, including earlier Styx works “Equinox” and “Crystal Ball.” Guitarist Tommy Shaw is comfortable in the role of co-front man, along with Gowan.
Original Stygian gutiarist James (JY) Young provided a haunting version of his cautionary tale of cocaine use “Snowblind.” A highlight of the set was a rare appearance by bassist Chuck Panozzo, who co-founded the group with his twin brother, drummer John Panozzo in the late ’60s. Panozzo came out of the closet in 1990, announcing he was HIV-positive, and appears on stage with Styx only rarely. John Panozzo lost a long battle with alcoholism in 1996. Rounding out the Styx lineup is bassist Ricky Phillips and frenetic drummer Todd Sucherman, whose dream came true when he joined the band he idolized as a teen. After a quick turnaround, REO took the stage.
Their set was somewhat marred by problems with the mix for the first couple of songs. Frontman Kevin Cronin’s vocals were barely audible on the opening number “Keep Pushin'” The bass drum sounded like an artillery exercise gone bad, one of the perils of being the second band on a co-headliner bill, with little time to set up. The problems were quickly overcome, and Cronin led the audience through a history of the band, alternating between rockers like “Roll with the Changes” and pop radio mega-ballads such as “Take it on the Run” and “Time for Me to Fly.” (Introduced by one of Cronin’s many stories peppered with the word “man.”) One small complaint. Cronin repeatedly said hello to Rochester. OK, so two thirds of the audience probably WAS from Rochester but next time, someone tell him where he is, OK? (Styx referred to the Finger Lakes and James Young made a reference to having visited Buffalo Bills training camp earlier in the day.)
Cronin was joined by two other members of the classic REO lineup, keyboardist Neal Doughty and bassist Bruce Hall, who took the only non-Cronin lead vocal of the evening on his ode to the touring life “Back on the Road Again.” Rounding out the band were lead guitarist Dave Amato (who replaced Gary Richrath) and drummer Bryan Hitt. As a nearly full moon rose over the hillside beyond the shell, REO closed with encore staples “Ridin’ the Storm Out” and “157 Riverside Avenue.”REO is working on a new studio album “The Brotherhood,” expected early next year. Styx’ current album is a cover of the tunes that influenced band members when they grew up called “The Big Bang Theory.”
The old guys can still rock and judging from the mix of baby boomers and youngsters in the audience, both bands will be around for a while.