BY JESS BECK | Go Venue Magazine
It was quite the impressive display of talent, hair, lights, and music on a blistering Wednesday evening on 07.20.2022 at the Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix, AZ as Loverboy, Styx, and REO Speedwagon let their powers combine to bring us everything that was amazing about the 70s and 80s in one show after a 4-year touring hiatus.
UnZoomed of course, because now that the pandemic is all but a long-forgotten memory to most of the citizens of this great nation, the time has come for synth/keyboard/rock to emerge as unscathed as it was before the pandemic began. Only this time you get to experience it in person instead of a recording, which is arguably the better option in my opinion.
But more on that in a moment.
For now, enjoy this little back story that will be a portal for you to enjoy the rest of the article in a few moments.
But this one’s important this time, I promise. See…back in 1987, my mother found out that she was pregnant with me. She also already had tickets to REO Speedwagon in Omaha, NE. So naturally she went to the show to introduce me to good music early on. And while I don’t quite remember the show back then, I can tell you with certainty that 35 years later, REO still puts on one hell of a show!
The first act of the night were the Canadian fellas in Loverboy, which was the perfect act to open up a show of this caliber. Boasting almost all of the original lineup (with the exception being bassist Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve, who replaced the original bass player Scott Smith after he tragically departed in a boating accident in 2001), Loverboy took the stage to thunderous applause of the thousands who showed up for this event. And sure, they’re all in the “boomer” category now, so it made perfect sense when frontman Mike Reno (yes…still in his signature bandana) bitched about MTV not playing music videos anymore. And you know what? I completely agree with him on this one. The absolute dribble that MTV has devolved into is about as exciting as receiving a moist FedEx package filled with gently sucked on chili dogs in August in Phoenix.
But anyway, they really set the tone for the rest of the night, as there were several times the audience participated in singing back the lyrics to the band. They didn’t do it well, and sure, there’s probably some form of heat exhaustion combined with heavy drinking that contributed to the tone-deafness of the participants. However, the point is that they made it an interactive experience, playing hits such as “Turn Me Loose” and “Working for the Weekend.” These video boys might have killed the radio star, but they sure do put on an entertaining live performance!
The sun had set a little further when the members of Styx waltzed across the stage to a standing ovation right from the start. And let we forget that, according to Adam Sandler in his hit film “Big Daddy,” that, “Styx only got a bad rap because most critics are cynical assholes.” And after a performance like the one they delivered, I have to agree.
They delivered BIG TIME on that well-deserved standing ovation, too. But a band that’s been around for close to half a century and has a catalogue of over 17 albums certainly knows what they’re doing. And although there’s been some new faces in the lineup over the years, everyone worked together to put on a memorable act for the rock-starved fans who rushed the barricade when they first set foot on stage.
Right out of the gate, they came out with more energy than bands who are half their age. They didn’t waste any time playing banger after banger for a hyped-up audience. After coming on stage and waving thankfully to the crowd, they launched right in with hits such as “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” and “Lady.”
It only took a matter of milliseconds for keyboardist, vocalist, and most of all, showman, Lawrence Gowan to openly flaunt his rotating keyboard platform, playing in a bedazzled suit jacket that I’m sure Ru Paul and Elton John would fist-fight each other for in a KFC parking lot. And in a moment of complete swagger, he turned that keyboard around and shook what his mama gave him to the delightful screams of the women in the front row.
Probably the best Styx moment of the night though came midway through their 90-minute set (a feat most impressive in this Arizona heat) when original member Chuck Panozzo joined his bandmates for a rendition of “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man),” which brought the crowd back to their feet in roaring cheers and clapping. While I wasn’t able to photograph this part of the show (thanks a lot Bruce Springsteen and your stupid 3 song rule), it was amazing to see, and the audience embraced Panozzo as family. Styx continued to play hit after hit, with the most notable ones for me being “Come Sail Away,” “Mr. Roboto,” “Renegade,” and “Rockin’ the Paradise.”
While the audience didn’t want to see Styx leave the stage, they were also eager for REO Speedwagon to play next as the co-headliner on this tour. Another act with almost 50 years of material to draw upon, including 16 studio albums, we were in for something magical as the lines between hard rock (for the time, keep in mind) and soft rock became blended together under one band.
REO Speedwagon is sort of the opposite of Loverboy in the sense that the ONLY remaining original member of the band is keyboardist Neal Doughty (although with frontman Kevin Cronin having been a part of the lineup since 1972, it’s a tough argument to make, but we’ll roll with it), but you’d never know it after having seen the impressive performance they delivered on that hot Wednesday evening. They played several scores from their 10x platinum selling 1980 mega-hit Hi Infidelity, including “Take It On The Run,” and “Keep On Loving You.”
Vocalist Cronin stated to the audience, “You guys feel like the world just keeps getting crazier and crazier? Man…I’m 70 years old, and let me tell you this…rock will keep you young!”
And I think that’s true. If you need proof besides the guys who were on stage prancing around like newborn deer, just look at the difference between Bill Clinton and Sammy Hagar, and you’ll see what Cronin was talking about. The guys in REO Speedwagon must have one hell of a yoga routine to keep them as sharp as mobile as they are!
Through the impressive explosion of lights, the right amount of smoke, and the delicious music coming from the stage, REO continued to rock the house late into the night, with memorable tracks including, “Rolling With the Changes,” “Time For Me to Fly,” and “Ridin’ The Storm Out.”
And what this show should teach all of us, is that regardless of how many lineup changes there might be, Rock N’ Roll is here to stay in whatever capacity the audience is able to keep it alive. And while it would be awesome to see newer bands enjoy the longevity and commercial success of the greats like Loverboy, Styx, and REO Speedwagon, the point is that at least for the moment, Rock N’ Roll is alive and well…and that’s because it never died.
As always, a big thank you to the Ak-Chin Pavilion staff, who worked tirelessly to ensure that the event was as enjoyable as possible for the thousands of fans who were in attendance. Every staff person I interacted with was kind, polite, and very helpful as this was my first, but hopefully not last time in this spectacular venue. Also, a special thanks to the paramedics who were busy taking care of wary, heat-exhausted patrons, as well as the roadies, stage crew, and everyone who worked tirelessly to bring this event together across the country so that we can get back to what brings us together!