Photos/review by John Jeffrey
Big Flats, NY - On Friday night, I took a three hour drive down to the Budweiser Summer Stage at Tags, to check out the "Midwest Rock and Roll Express Tour." Being touted as one of the best bills of the summer, how could anyone pass up seeing Ted Nugent, Styx and REO Speedwagon all in one night? In our recent interview with Lawrence Gowan (Styx), we asked him if a billing of this magnitude would draw out the competitive nature in any of the artists on the tour, and while he admitted there's always a bit of that element when performing with other bands, Gowan stated that there is "no act" that he "would feel intimidated by" for Styx "to go on after." While Styx didn't feel any heat from either of the opening bands, there was definitely some friendly (or not so friendly) on stage banter going on between Uncle Ted and REO.
The eternally verbose Nugent took the stage just before the sun went down, giving the fans a healthy,hour serving of the self proclaimed "last rhythm and blues band on the planet." Playing just under a dozen of all of the Nuge classics you would expect to hear, Ted and his band of "soul brothers" played with authority and had a crystal clear sound. Enough cannot be said about the continued collaboration with fellow guitarist and lead vocalist Derek St. Holmes. Derek's pristine voice gives the needed authenticity to the songs he originally sang in the 70's, and his guitar playing perfectly compliments wild man Ted's over the top leads. When Ted addressed the crowd regarding him doing a tour with such an unpredictable lineup, he noted while REO Speedwagon and Styx have a lot of love songs, he said all of his songs are 'love songs,' and none of the other bands have a song like this ("Wang Dang Sweet Poontang"). Wrapping up the short set with a killer version of "Stranglehold" reminded why it is imperative to catch Ted Nugent when he is headlining!
Reo Speedwagon hit the stage next, and while being second up to Styx, they were given more PA volume than Nugent. This was a definitive case of being louder doesn't always mean 'better.' Their sound was full of high end, and the (drum) cymbals were annoyingly loud. That being said, front man Kevin Cronin (while possibly looking older than all of the other members of the bands on the bill) had more energy than anyone else who graced the stage this night. But even if REO Speedwagon was powered by a nuclear generator, their limp wristed rock couldn't hold a candle to the Nuge. REO played their 'feel good' set, comprised of their hits from the 80's, and about halfway through Cronin (responding to Nugent's earlier comments) asked the crowd if when they were ready to get it on with their significant other at the end of the night, whether or not they would put on "Cat Scratch Fever" or "Can't Fight This Feeling." I'd go with the former.
Styx closed out the night, taking the stage with the bravado and swagger one would expect from the headlining group. While the drum mix was still off, the sound was much improved from REO, and the crowd went nuts once the band took the stage. All of the fans in the front seated section squeezed their way into the front pit area, right against the front lip of the stage. Fans of all ages were singing along to every word from the many hit songs they pulled from their 40 year career. While Gowan and Tommy Shaw took turns singing the classics (and of course "JY" getting the chance to sing his token "Miss America" - complete with his funny facial expressions), the real treat was when they brought out original bassist and founding member, Chuck Panozzo. Although Panozzo looked rather stiff and sedate, you could see in his face that he was having a blast playing on the handful of songs he performed with
the group, like "Come Sail Way."
As the show ended, it truly made for a great night of rock and roll, on a beautiful summer evening in July. It was made clear that while Styx was 'the band,' Ted is 'the man,' and for REO, it was definitely "Time For Me To Fly."
Special thanks to Amanda Cagan for providing us with press credentials.