REO Speedwagon, Styx and Nightranger share the spotlight at Tampa's Ford Amphitheatre

[image-1]The evening began with a set by Nightranger, who are probably the lesser known of the three bands. Prior to the show, I overheard several people asking friends who Nightranger was and what they sang. Familiar titles like Sister Christian, You Can Still Rock In America and Don’t Tell Me You Love Me, seemed to jog everyone’s memory, even if they couldn’t remember the right lyrics. Bassist Jack Blades and pals stormed the stage at approximately 7 p.m. and blasted out a rocking set that immediately brought the house to its feet. For men of their advanced age, the guys commanded the stage with the energy of much younger bands and belted out the tunes that made them famous. Even for a band that never hit my personal top 10, I really enjoyed the music.


With a co-headlining show format, REO and Styx swap the headlining slot each evening, with Styx slated to close the show on this date. This was a bit of a disappointment, as I had been invited to a post-set “meet & greet” with the band, which I was forced to miss in order to see Styx. I suppose this wasn’t a huge deal for me, even though I have always been a fan of the band. Unfortunately, my memories of REO have always been slightly tainted by an experience I endured during a show in the late '70s, where my mother (I wasn’t old enough to drive at the time) insisted that keyboardist Neal Doughty kept flirting with her. Although 1977’s Live-You Get What You Play For is one of my favorite live albums, I still cringe when the thought of my mom as someone’s sex object comes to mind. Pardon me; I need a minute to compose myself.


REO Speedwagon spent nearly eighty minutes belting out hit after hit to a throng of fans that seem to know every lyric. Guitarist Dave Amato, bassist Bruce Hall and lead vocalist Kevin Cronin spent the entire set traversing the stage, jumping off risers and whipping the audience into a general frenzy. Only keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Bryan Hitt seemed somewhat subdued, but this may have been the result of instruments that don’t lend well to mobility rather that old age. My only disappointment was the continued absence of founding guitarist Gary Richrath, due to ongoing bad blood with Kevin Cronin. As a teenage guitarist, I spent many hours emulating Richrath’s licks and trying to get my band’s version of Riding The Storm Out to sound as good as the album.


Styx, a band known for theatrical stage shows and lots of effects, took the stage to close the show at approximately 9:50 p.m.  Although the set featured a colorful light show, the band seems to have opted to rely on more high energy antics and a catalog of hit songs to win over the audience, rather than fancy sets and gimmicks. I’ve seen Styx several times over the years, dating all the way back the Paradise Theater days, and I enjoyed last nights’ show the best. When stripped of the glitz and glamour, Styx is a pretty good rock band. Given that Tommy Shaw is a kick-ass guitarist, who has managed to carry his own weight with the likes of Ted Nugent, I guess that this really shouldn’t surprise me.


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As I walked out of the amphitheatre toward my car, I decided that classic rock doesn’t suck and I will probably always enjoy it, no matter what it’s called. For many people, a really good, old-fashioned, classic rock show will always win out over the onstage hysteria and theatrics that many bands rely on to entertain an audience. Besides, when it comes down to brass tacks (kids, ask your parents what this means), the music is what really matters, not the show. I wonder if Slipknot could hold an audience’s attention without makeup and distortion.


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It’s depressing to think that much of the music I grew up with and love is now considered classic rock. The name "classic rock" evokes an image of elderly rockers, banging out overplayed tunes that can often be heard in the aisles of the local Publix. I suppose I take it a bit personally because I don’t think of myself as old. But, as my daughter once pointed out, most old people don’t. It’s a disturbing trend that goes right along with the recent revelation that my first car, a 1975 Mustang, is now considered an antique and items from my childhood show up on Antiques Roadshow from time to time. Maybe, when I finally give in to old age, these things won’t affect me so much. But don’t expect that to happen any time soon.

Friday night’s triple bill at the Ford Amphitheatre featured REO Speedwagon, Styx and Nightranger, all of whom qualify for the classic rock moniker. Still, despite this branding, these three bands managed to convince thousands of people to hand over their hard-earned money in exchange for a few hours of music and fun. In these tough economic times, that have seen the cancellation of many big name tours, this feat is one that should not be dismissed as a fluke or written off as a trip down memory lane. This was an old fashioned rock show that had the crowd on their feet dancing and screaming all night long. Even the weather held out and offered comfortable temperatures and a cool breeze.

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