REO Speedwagon's vocalist Kevin Cronin, left, with lead guitarist Dave Amato. Cronin, at 61, has kept his high vocal range.
Classic rock is music’s equivalent to the idiomatic phrase: “It is what it is.”
And what it was to the more than 4,800 fans who packed the Huntington Center on Sunday night to see a triple bill of REO Speedwagon, Styx, and Ted Nugent was mostly nostalgia.
“It reminds us of an easier time,” said 47-year-old Joe Turek of Luna Pier, Mich. “It seems like when we listened to the music the first time, the world was not so confusing or complicated. It takes us back. And it takes your mind off everything.”
Darlene Spradline, a 50-something from Toledo, was seeing REO Speedwagon for the fourth time. For her, reliving her youth is a state of mind.
“Your body reminds you how old you are, but your mind refuses to catch up,” she said. “That’s where I am.”
REO Speedwagon, Styx, and Ted Nugent have played to these faithful for years and quite literally banded together last year as a megaconcert attraction known as Midwest Rock ’n Roll Express, which launched its second-consecutive tour only a few days ago.
While The Midwest Rock ’n Roll Express name could just as easily represent its biggest audiences, the tour title is representative of the fact that REO Speedwagon and Styx are Chicago bands, and Nugent is from Detroit. And thus The Motor City Madman was awarded headliner status based on home-field advantage in a four-hour show, minus breaks between sets, that played much like a greatest-hits show.
REO Speedwagon started it off when a 10-song hour-long set that started promptly at 7. The band’s identity is mostly through lead singer Kevin Cronin, who, even at 61, has kept his high range. The band stirred the audience out of its seats immediately with opening song “Don’t Let Him Go,” followed by “Take It on the Run,” with Cronin pausing little to chat with the crowd during the band’s set.
Styx amped up the volume for its hour-long set and was arguably the biggest draw for Toledo. The band’s Midwest roots were prevalent in its setlist, with songs like “Blue Collar Man,” “Angry Young Man,” and “Too Much Time on My Hands.” It was the classic-rock staple “Come Sail Away,” however, that drew the biggest reaction, though keyboardist and lead singer Lawrence Gowan’s theatrics proved distracting and cheesy. Gowan has been with the band since 1999 and offers an adequate sound-alike replacement for Dennis DeYoung.
As with many classic rock acts at this point, there’s a shortage of original members in Styx: James “JY” Young is the only one. REO Speedwagon technically has only one original member, keyboardist Neal Doughty, though Cronin has been in the band since the early 1970s, and bassist Bruce Hall joined the band in 1978.
And then there’s Nugent, who is his own show.
The fiery guitarist played it loud, including the addition of a wall of speakers behind him and his three bandmates. In what may have been the loudest set at the Huntington Center so far, Nugent cranked the decibels with an aural assault that began with “Wango Tango” and “Just What the Doctor Ordered.”
Nugent also dropped in musical references to his home city with The Temptations’ Motown classic “My Girl,” and to guitar hero Chuck Berry and “ “Johnny B. Goode.”
When Styx lead singer and guitarist Tommy Shaw asked the crowd for a show of hands of how many were seeing the band for the first time and how many have seen the group before it was evenly split. His point was: The band and other classic rock artists are still relevant, even as its audience is graying along with the rockers. Well, not everyone.
At 22, Kyle Hobbs could have been the son of most anyone at the show. Not that it mattered to the Cardington, Ohio, resident. He was seeing Nugent for the fifth time, REO Speedwagon for the third, and Styx for the second.
“I like the release,” Hobbs said. “When you are here, you don’t think about anything else in the world. It gives you a break from the stress.”
Hobbs was raised on the FM staples and he prefers the 30-year-old and 40-year-old music to much of what he hears on the radio today. “Today’s music, it’s hard to understand what they’re saying. It’s not for me.”
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org: or 419-724-6734.