July 19, 2018
It may be over three months late, but here goes. Way back on Wednesday, April 4, Jacqueline and I drove to Charlottesville to see a concert featuring three separate acts: Don Felder (former lead guitarist with the Eagles), REO Speedwagon, and Styx. I had seen Felder once before, with the Eagles in 1980 or so, but I had never seen the other two groups before. I like all three of the featured performers, so for me this was a wonderful opportunity. (Jacqueline enjoyed it as well, but she wasn't quite as passionate about it.)
The last rock concert we attended was in the same venue about a year earlier: Stevie Nicks, in March 25, 2017. (Likewise, there was a big time lag between the event and the blog post.) This time we had much better seats, in the lower level. Tickets were reasonably priced (ours were in the $60 range), reflecting the modest demand for second tier classic rock groups. Most of the fans in attendance were at least our age, though there were some youngsters as well. The upper deck was curtained off because of the empty seats. I would say there about 5,000 people in attendance.
Right on time at 7:00 Don Felder came onto the stage, and [he quickly] lit into "Already Gone," one of the Eagles' first big hits. His lead guitar playing made that song something really special; it was from their third album, On the Border. Felder joined the group during the recording sessions, and he had a big impact on the group's style in subsequent years. Unfortunately, he was never given the chance to share in the credits, and that's one of the main reasons for the group's breakup in 1980, and for his exclusion from the band after their "Hell Freezes Over" reunion tour of the mid-1990s. It's a real shame that those guys couldn't work out their differences. For example, there is a dispute over who really wrote "Hotel California," the music of which he claims was almost entirely his. That was, of course, the finale of the evening; his nine-song set lasted a little under one hour. I was unaware that he wrote the theme song for the movie Heavy Metal, which he also played. Felder is a great guitarist and not a bad singer, even though he hardly ever sang lead parts on Eagles songs. Since the Eagles are probably my favorite group, I was just delighted with that part of the concert. Big smiles!
As befitting a rock star, Felder's attire reminded me of the line in Tom Petty's song "Into the Great Wide Open": "His leather jacket had chains that would jingle." His official website (donfelder.com) currently displays a link to a story in Guitar World that "Hotel California" was chosen as the all-time number one 12-string guitar song, in their list of 30 such songs. As usual, I took notes of the song titles as they were played, and for this part of the concert at least I didn't need any help in identifying them:
After a short break, REO Speedwagon took the stage, with front man Kevin Cronin clearly in charge. He is a diminuitive fellow, and wore odd glasses, kind of like Elton John. I only had a vague idea of the complicated history of that group, and Cronin's role in it. I clearly remember their first big hit "Ridin' the Storm Out" from my college days, but that was recorded while Cronin was out of the band. He joined in early 1972, left in 1973, and then rejoined for good in 1976. He plays guitars, sings, and does some keyboard work. Among the other band members, keyboardist Neal Doughty is the only one of the original members (1967) who has stayed with the group all the way through. Bruce Hall has been the bassist since 1977, and Dave Amato has been lead guitarist since 1989. He replaced Gary Richrath, a major creative force who joined in 1970. (He died in 2015.) Bryan Hitt became the drummer in 1989, at the same time as Amato. The group had its origins in the suburbs of Chicago. For more info about albums, tour dates, etc., see the group's website: reospeedwagon.com
It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s that REO Speedwagon reached its peak of success. It always seemed to me that their songs from that period had more of a pop music appeal, not as much hard rock as before. For a while during the latter years of the classic rock era, they were a veritable hit machine.
So, I had high expectations, and for the most part the group met and surpassed them. I wasn't familiar with some of the songs, but that's OK. They were tight, well-rehearsed and enthusiastic about playing some great old tunes. You can't ask for more from a bunch of guys in their 50s and 60s!
** Song title from setlist.fm.
I noticed that several of the REO songs had alternate guitar tunings, such as "Time For Me to Fly." That inspired me to learn a few new songs by them, in addition to "Take It On the Run" and "Ridin' the Storm Out," which I already knew. (I've played them both in public.)
The final and perhaps leading act of the evening was Styx, named after the Greek mythological river that marks the border of Hades, the realm of the afterlife. Although I was not familiar with the three songs they played from their new album (The Mission, about a space adventure), I enjoyed them all. "Blue Collar Man" and "Lady" really fired up the crowd.
Like REO Speedwagon, Styx has its origins in the state of Illinois, and likewise the group has endured more than its share of personnel changes over the years. They rose to rock stardom at roughly the same time as the other group, but their appeal was perhaps a little narrower due to what might be called their special artistic vision. Styx was a prime example of progressive rock, following in the footsteps of Yes and Pink Floyd. Kansas (one of my favorite groups) bears some stylistic similarities to Styx, except that Styx was always more self-consciously theatrical. The "missing person" was Dennis DeYoung, the singer and keyboardist who wrote or co-wrote most of the group's hits. He was with the group from 1970 until 1984 and then for two separate periods in the 1990s; he left for good in 1999. (As with REO Speedwagon, the personnel history is based on the CDs I have as well as wikipedia.org and the group's own website: styxworld.com.)
** Song title from setlist.fm.
The three songs marked with hashtags (#) are from the new Styx album, The Mission (2017). The song "Light Up" (which I could not identify that night) was from their album Equinox (1975), which also featured "Lorelei," which I do remember.
As with REO Speedwagon, I was inspired by the concert to learn some of Styx's songs, but most of them are just not suited for a solo guitarist like me. I did learn "Come Sail Away" and "Lady," and managed to do a fair job on the latter in public once or twice. I learned "Fooling Yourself" many years ago, but have not yet played it in public.
So all in all, it was a fantastic concert experience, and one of the best music values (dollar-wise) that I have ever had. As classic rock groups age and start to retire, the opportunities to see some of them are dwindling. I would highly recommend seeing any of these performers, either alone or in a paired set (or triple set), as the case may be. Don't miss them!