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Classic Rock's Main Event: Styx, REO Speedwagon, Journey

by Rich and Laura Lynch

How do three veteran rock bands, all best known for their hit songs from the 70's and 80's and each dealt serious blows to their original line-ups, still live the dream and reality of performing for packed arenas teeming with fans? If you're Styx, Journey & REO Speedwagon you form a tour de force, with partnership marketing from VH1. The Classic Rock's Main Event Spring and Summer Tour of 2003 features many of the greatest hits by these three bands who have collectively had over 140 million in total album sales.

Fans of 80's rock giants converge on Pepsi Arena in Albany, New York.

This concert tour is aptly named the Main Event because the show has the feel of a circus, rock concert and professional boxing match all in one. The similarly matched bands, who all pioneered part of the AOR radio sound, each delivered energetic and powerful performances with enough hits to last a night of heavy-weight prize fights.

Overall, the evening had a structured organization and the performances were tied together with a cohesive video presentation containing clips, graphics and textual enhancements from each of the bands. Ticking away like the minutes of a round in a boxing match was a large L.E.D. clock behind the soundstage. This device alerted the bands as to how much time was remaining in their respective sets, which allowed for fast-paced, urgent performances from each of them.

REO's Kevin Cronin, Dave Amato and Bruce Hall Keep Pushin' On.

Kicking off the evening promptly at 7:30 p.m. were heartland rockers, REO Speedwgaon, whose 'Riding the Storm Out' and 'Keep Pushin' set the tone and pace for the entire evening. Leader-singer Kevin Cronin and the rest of the band came out ablazin' in jazzy attire with plenty of showmanship, abounding with exuberance and enthusiasm.

Around mid-set Cronin relayed a story about a recent invitation to the infamous Playboy Mansion and he said it was necessary to visit it to see the type of temptations his children may face someday. The band then launched into the complete side-one of their record-smashing Hi-Infidelity LP from 1981 enhanced by a giant video image of the album's cover serving as a backdrop. 'Time For Me to Fly' was next but the band had time for a few more.

Bassist Bruce Hall took over on lead vocals for 'Back on The Road Again' which was preceded by a Cronin rap about being sick of celebrities and professional athletes complaining about their jobs during which he ran through a list of everyday people who really do "damn hard work". He dedicated the song to the band's roadies and crews as well as doctors, nurses and America's ubiquitous post-911 patriotic super-heroes, police officers and firemen. This was followed by the classic AOR jam anthem, 'Roll With The Changes'. The band then left the stage and returned for the crowd pleasing set closer, '157 Riverside Avenue'.

REO's lead-guitarist Dave Amato and drummer Bryan Hitt were the new guys in the band taking over for original members Gary Richrath and Alan Gratzer in the late 80's and early 90's. The line-up this evening had the band sounding as proficient as ever.

Up next was Styx another band from the nation's heartland, who managed to exceed REO Speedwagon's energy through cool musical props and their bass-player's mad-dashes through the arena. Opening up with a solid one-two punch, the band stormed through 'Too Much Time on My Hands', 'Grand Illusion' and a new power-rocker from the recent Cyclorama CD, 'Waiting For Our Time'.

At one point during the performance Tommy Shaw asked how many fans were at their first Styx concert and it seemed as though more the half the arena called back in a youthful sounding roar. This underscored the fact that a lot of new fans were being introduced to classic rock on this night.

All three of these bands have a similar style and demographic and it is a wonder that it took so long to bring them together on a bill of this caliber. Many parents in their 30's and 40's had their children with them – introducing them to their generation of rock heroes. It is likely that this billing, already anticipating adding more dates to their initial run of 45 cities, will continue for a long time.

James Young then introduced the "wild-man" from New Jersey, Glen Burtnik, who took the arena by surprise when the spotlight found him way in the back. He then embarked on a raucous jaunt throughout the audience while singing and playing his bass at the same time. His antics really helped the crowd get into another new song off of Cyclorama, 'Kiss Your A** Goodbye' which also included a few verses of Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away'.

Styx continued the circus atmosphere by returning to the stage after their last song to kick, throw and bat giant inflatable Styx beach balls into the audience.

Styx's Glen Burtnik, James (JY) Young and Tommy Shaw.

Styx has successfully endured the loss of key members over time. Glen Burtnik, who was a guitar player in an earlier incarnation of the band, is back on bass, and he along with drummer Todd Sucherman replaces the departed Panozzo brother rhythm section. Another newcomer, Lawrence Gowan, was lively and entertaining, spinning and dancing all night on his revolving keyboard. He also looks and sounds a lot like Dennis DeYoung, whose spot he takes in the band.

Closing out the evening was Journey from San Francisco, California. This is a band that has recovered from a near-devastating blow to their classic line-up, the loss of front-man and songwriter, Steve Perry. Amazingly, the band has found an energetic and capable replacement in the form of Steve Augeri whose voice is extremely similar to Perry's high-octane octaves.

Like any boxing match this show lost only a little steam in the final rounds. Journey, the technical headliners on this tour, came out strong by throwing out forceful versions of 'Separate Ways' and 'Wheel in the Sky'.

Journey's Neal Schon During His Performance of The Star Spangled Banner.

Adding another patriotic flair to the evening was Neal Schon's solo version of 'The Star Spangled Banner' performed with fluid ease by the guitarist who started at 17-years old in Carlos Santana's band. But, when they tried to start 'Feeling That Way/Anytime' Jonathan Cain's equipment failure had the band scrambling to pull an audible of 'Where Were You', a concert rarity only recently re-added to the band's live repertoire.

Still, Journey did not disappoint and their songs 'Stone In Love', 'Be Good to Yourself' and 'Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' were crowd pleasers. The band also introduced the new song 'State of Grace' from their recent Red 13 [EP].

Classic Rock's Main Event - Styx, Journey, REO Speedwagon.

Like any well-trained fighter this concert was prepared and backed by a good corner. The integrated work of the roadies and stage hands led to efficient and seamless stage turnovers with only short intervals between performances resulting in a four hour event that was a virtual "best-of" AOR rock showcase. The collective energy, tight performances and team support helped all three of the bands score a classic-rock knock-out in only three rounds.

Related Links: For more information on Styx, Journey and REO Speedwagon and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links -- Journey: Official Site | REO: Official Site | Styx: Official Site


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