Classic Rock News And Views
May 10, 2013
Photos and Story by Scott A. Smith
Armed with loud guitars and aim-to-please set lists, Styx, REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent brought their Midwest Rock-N-Roll Express Tour screeching into the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., on May 8.
All three acts served their A-game to 10,000 cheering fans inside the darkened, great-sounding venue, assertively taking the stage for their respective moments in the multi-colored spotlights. The controversial Nugent’s evening-opening, high-gear set was the loudest of the three bands at an ear-popping 108 decibels, with the Motor City Madman’s guitar buzz-sawing its way through fan treasures “Wango Tango,” “Just What the Doctor Ordered,” “Hey Baby” and “Turn It Up.”
Underneath a cowboy hat and a headset microphone, Nugent playfully grimaced for the crowd and dropped F-bombs while discussing President Obama. In between the loud-as-a-jet-engine songs, the bold front-man also wagged a metaphorical middle finger to those who have criticized his hunting practices and mostly conservative viewpoints.
The on-going friendship between Nugent and his singer-rhythm guitarist, Derek St. Holmes, served as a spiritual and sonic anchor for Nugent’s set. St. Holmes, whose voice helped characterize Nugent’s original studio work, summoned well-balanced, rhythmic guitar shades while Nugent unleashed his speedy, lead-guitar fury on the Tulsa stage.
St. Holmes sounded excellent on the lead-vocal mic for the set’s highlight, a pulsating, hypnotic take of the prog-rockish “Stranglehold,” and a fun run-through of Nugent’s widescreen-esque “Great White Buffalo” acted as the note-perfect encore.
As pre-recorded music from The Who blasted from the sound system, Styx emerged from the stage curtain to dive straight into the hard-rock heaven that is “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights).” Commanding the stage with the night’s longest, most-energetic set, Styx threw fans a curveball by including the bouncy “Light Up” and the speed-demon fury of “Rockin’ the Paradise” in the up-tempo proceedings.
Guitarists Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young traded off impressive six-string attacks while bassist Ricky Phillips, keyboardist-singer Lawrence Gowan and drummer Todd Sucherman locked together for a bullet-proof foundation. Phillips slung low notes from his 5-string bass, while Gowan’s strong tenor led a rousing rendition of the early Styx hit, “Lady.”
Young’s assertive vocals marched through the stomping “Miss America,” while Shaw’s voice alternated between near-prayer quietness and full-throttle madman howl for an adrenalized “Renegade.” When it came time to begin the majestic “Come Sail Away,” Gowan playfully stitched together piano parts from Eric Clapton’s “Layla” and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” before singing snippets of Pink Floyd, Queen and Led Zeppelin. Gowan then started the piano intro to “Come Sail Away,” which was answered by countless cell-phone lights and the small, yellowish flames from about 50 Bic lighters.
Show-closer REO Speedwagon rushed the stage for the Bo Diddly-flavored “Don’t Let Him Go,” with bassist Bruce Hall’s bass notes taking on a near-perfect sound quality as they emitted from the stage’s mighty sound system. Although they didn’t play quite as long as they did at the Tulsa Hard Rock in late February, the members of REO Speedwagon still had plenty of passion and, possibly, the best sound quality of the night.
REO drummer Bryan Hitt pounded out each song’s beats without overplaying, and guitarist Dave Amato wailed away on the solo breaks. Hall later launched into a 60-second bass solo before standing center-stage to sing rock’s greatest love-them-and-leave-them tale, the always-wonderful “Back on the Road Again.”
Letting his rock-and-roll preacher persona fly with grinning pride, REO front-man Kevin Cronin also was in winning shape. When seen in person, Cronin’s rhythm guitar efforts are more aggressive than one might believe. His piano playing, as heard on “Roll with the Changes” and “Keep On Loving You,” hasn’t diminished a bit.
The same can be said for REO’s keyboardist Neal Doughty. Setting up camp with his Hammond organ and keyboards at stage right, Doughty played all the right mid-range notes, trading solo breaks hot potato-style with Amato’s adventurous, edgy guitar playing.
Sure, in some people’s eyes it might be more “hip” to dig The Black Keys these days, but with the Styx/REO/Nugent tour stacking up hit songs and FM diamonds by the train car, it’s impossible not to soak in the still-great sounds from these three rock icons. In all fairness, Black Keys singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach is a worthy talent, but we all know that Sucherman and Hitt both could out-drum Black Keys drummer (and perpetual insult-hurler) Patrick Carney with both hands tied behind their backs.
April 24, 2013
Story and photos by Scott A. Smith
Acting as some species of rock-and-roll phoenix, Audio Adrenaline has resurrected itself and is creating some terrific, hard-hitting music. With original bassist Will McGinniss and former DC Talk singer Kevin Max at the front of the stage, Audio Adrenaline won a hero’s welcome from fans of all ages April 20 at the 180 Remix Youth Center in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
The excellent set list was crammed with Audio A’s still-wonderful hits from yesteryear like “Ocean Floor” and “Hands and Feet,” with plenty of room given to cuts from the band’s new album, “Kings & Queens.”
Dressed in black from head to toe, Kevin Max sounded muscular and invigorated on the mic, singing throughout the night as if he was a co-creator of the back catalog. (Original singer Mark Stuart lost his voice about eight years ago, which resulted in Audio Adrenaline’s hiatus; Stuart and McGinniss both oversee the Hands and Feet Project, which cares for more than 100 orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti.)
The concert’s nervy, punkish set-opener “Clap Your Hands” erupted from the sound system, signaling that Audio Adrenaline are back with all pistons firing. Also boasting guitarist Dave Ghazarian, drummer Jared Byers and keyboardist-singer Jason Walker, the group gave a raw edge to the new, bouncy song, “He Moves You Move.” “Fire Never Sleeps,” “King of the Comebacks” and “Believer,” also brand-new offerings from Audio Adrenaline, undoubtedly were among the show’s high-water marks.
With his curly hair often a black-colored blur, Ghazarian made all of his six-string moments count. His efforts alternated between thick-sounding rhythm chords and distorted, wild-man solos, while Byers, who resembles a young George Harrison, made his four-piece drum set sound like a percussion-playing army. The frequent laughs and grins exchanged between Byers and McGinniss gave the concert a living-room feel, while adults mouthed the songs’ words and children used purple- and blue-colored light sticks as miniature light sabers.
Tour-openers Group 1 Crew, Seventh Day Slumber and Manic Drive also gave all on the Fort Smith stage. Manic Drive impressed with a melodic slot that ventured into rock-trio format, and Seventh Day Slumber bassist Ken Reed won a tearful, joyous “yes!” when he proposed to his long-time girlfriend in mid-set.
Fans also couldn’t take their eyes off Blanca Reyes Callahan, one of Group 1 Crew’s lead singers, who seemingly defied physics when she bounced around the stage and never missed a vocal cue. Callahan’s performance was almost miraculous, considering that she is six months pregnant.
April 22, 2013
Story and Photo by Scott A. Smith
Soft-rock jokes be banished: Chicago rocks — really rocks — in concert.
A still-strong staple of American popular music, Chicago stormed through a perfectly orchestrated set list April 18 for a sold-out, multi-generational audience at the Joint inside the Tulsa Hard Rock.
A seemingly endless sonic stream of hit singles and must-play LP cuts dominated the evening, with original band members Robert Lamm (vocals, keyboards), Walter Parazaider (saxophone, flute), Lee Loughnane (trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals), James “Jimmy” Pankow (trombone) and Lou Pardini (keyboards, vocals) playing as if they were invigorated, 20-year-old musicians. The lively horns were spot on throughout the concert.
No longer the “new guys” in Chicago, singer-bassist Jason Scheff, drummer Tris Imboden, guitarist Keith Howland and percussionist Walfredo Reyes Jr. also rose to the occasion of meeting fans’ expectations set long ago by Chicago’s rich, studio output. Scheff continues to embrace the near-impossible task of handling the vocals and roaming bass figures of former member Peter Cetera. Scheff’s voice was strong throughout the show, hitting peak moments on “Old Days,” “Just You ‘N’ Me,” “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “Hard Habit to Break.”
Imboden and Reyes engaged in a playful, drumming dog-fight, and Howland soloed magnificently, bending notes during the heavy moments and providing padded, laid-back colors during the show’s quieter moments. Howland never once defaced the immortal six-string runs created by Chicago’s original guitarist, the late Terry Kath. Instead, Howland mirrored a healthy portion of the original guitar parts but had ample room to stretch and put his own stamp on the mid-range and top-end frequencies.
Chicago followers cheered as “Beginnings,” “You’re the Inspiration,” “Free,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” made the evening’s set list. Near the end of the two-hour gig, the bouncy, always-recognizable piano intro to “Saturday in the Park” commanded all to stand, clap and cheer, and a refreshing, Hammond organ-heavy sprint through the Spencer Davis Group/Steve Winwood chestnut “I’m A Man” proudly held traces of prime-era Santana.
For the breezy ballad, “If You Leave Me Now,” Chicago welcomed a female fan to the stage. The woman was the winning bidder for a chance to sing one song with Chicago; the band accepts winning bids from fans at each concert, with the money going to the American Cancer Society’s fight against breast cancer. Slightly nervous, the woman stood near Scheff, trading verses with the grinning bassist and winning cheers when she crooned, “Don’t leave me, Jason.”
Later, the stomping, appropriately placed encore of “25 or 6 to 4,” with its Cream-like verses and the outstanding, half-time beats of its chorus, won more loud responses from the friendly crowd.
I have friends who almost sneer at the mere mention of Chicago’s name, and I still don’t know why. Watching the smiling band love on their fans with terrific, inspired performances delivered via loud-yet-crystal-clear sound, it becomes apparent that Chicago is one of the few bands that, while playing on any of the world’s stages, can make every day feel like the Fourth of July.
February 27, 2013
Photos & Story by Scott Smith
A power ballad-filled reputation often tails REO Speedwagon like merciless paparazzi, yet the Illinois-borne quintet is so much more than a metaphorical jukebox crammed with love songs.
The popular rock band blazed through a well-paced set Feb. 23 at a packed Tulsa Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, balancing must-play hit singles with pounding, lengthy passages that allowed lead singer Kevin Cronin, lead guitarist Dave Amato, bassist Bruce Hall, keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Bryan Hitt to stretch their flexible musical chops. Like Fleetwood Mac, REO Speedwagon gains more grit in the concert setting, giving songs like “Take It on the Run” and even “Keep On Loving You” a harder, rock-fueled edge.
A positive, encouraging vibe radiated from the group to the audience and vice versa, with the Buddy Holly-esque rhythms of “Don’t Let Him Go” arriving in the set first. Cronin showed his voice to be strong while playing rhythm guitar and piano, and his rock-and-roll preacher persona was in full-throttle gear. His between-song banter had charm, and his energy kept his busy feet shuffling from stage left to stage right and back.
Sometimes criticized — unfairly — by a few fans, Amato displayed the ultimate team-player attitude, tackling his guitar solos with a fun vengeance but tastefully toning down his riffs during Cronin’s singing passages. When Cronin put his arm around Amato’s neck near the end of “Roll With the Changes,” Amato laughed before singing terrific, high-harmony parts.
Doughty supplied fantastic B3 Hammond organ parts, crucial piano lines and occasional washes of synthesizer, while Hall stepped up to the microphone for an absolutely gripping version of 1979′s “Back on the Road Again.” Hall’s voice, miraculously, sounded even better than it did on the studio original, and his pre-song bass solo was fluid, flooring long-time fans.
“Did Bruce sing ‘Back on the Road Again’ originally?” asked one fan. “Yeah, he did,” answered the man next to him. “Wow, I never knew that,” said the fan. “That’s really cool.”
REO’s Tulsa gig wasn’t just a rock concert. It was a revival that not only celebrated REO’s back catalog, but it addressed the freedoms and responsibilities that co-exist in the United States. Cronin told the audience he felt blessed to live in a country where he can express himself openly. He also said he greeted other people’s opinions and interests with an open mind.
Well, almost everyone else. Cronin took a playful jab at frequent touring partner Ted Nugent, saying he and Detroit’s Motor City Madman had an on-going difference of opinion on what song is rock’s greatest ballad.
“Whenever we tour with Ted, he introduces one song as the No. 1 love song of all time,” said a smiling Cronin before several audience members laughed. “Ted says that right before he plays ‘Cat Scratch Fever.’”
At that moment, Amato emerged from the shadows, mimicking the song’s instantly recognizable guitar intro before silencing his instrument and smiling.
“Hey, is Ted here?” Cronin asked jokingly. “Oh no, that’s Dave. Dave played with Ted for many years and he knows all about Ted. Yes, and REO is actually touring again with Ted and Styx in the spring.” (The three will play Tulsa’s BOK Center on May 8.)
In Tulsa, REO showed that alternative rock-loving naysayers could be wrong about Midwestern-style rock. Hipsters keep telling the world that it’s cooler to like The Black Keys over so-called “corporate bands” like REO, Styx and Journey, yet when REO unleashed the one-two punch of “Time for Me To Fly” and “Back on the Road Again” near the end of the Tulsa concert, REO proved the haters wrong — dead wrong. No matter what your musical tastes and biases might be today, if your body doesn’t move and your face doesn’t smile the very second the first chorus of “Time for Me To Fly” happens, you have no heart. Or soul. Or pulse.
February 23, 2013
Story by Jason Kane
Some rock bands burst onto the scene and then fade away. Others endure and maintain fan followings for decades. Lovers of classic rock music are in luck this year. Many great bands are embarking on exciting new tours. Here are five classic rock bands that are touring in 2013.
The Beach Boys
With a history stretching back fifty years, The Beach Boys music is renowned for capturing California culture. Their fun, carefree songs about surfing, girls, and hanging out at the beach have attracted generations of fans. Although the band has gone through many changes since the ’60s, the spirit of their music remains the same. The Beach Boys are starting their 2013 tour in Westerberg, New York, on April 4. It ends on October 12 in Biloxi, Mississippi.
This legendary ’70s band is known for “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Free Bird” and other favorites. Their music has been featured in many films and they are considered one of the most popular bands of the 1970′s. They are also one of the most iconic southern rock bands in history. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s tour starts in Chicago on March 15 and concludes on September 21 at the Edgewater Hotel and Casino.
Over three decades after their famous “Rumours” Album, Fleetwood Mac is back. The band traces its origins back to the late ’60s. Despite many lineup changes, Fleetwood Mac continues to gain fans. They are embarking on a new tour that is sure to please fans of one of the bestselling rock acts in history. The tour begins on April 4 in Columbus, Ohio. The finale occurs in July 6 in Sacramento.
The unique style and incredible endurance of ZZ Top has made them a rock favorite for four decades. ZZ Top still has the exact same lineup that it did when it started, an extreme rarity in rock music history. The band has sold 25 million albums in the United States alone. They have been members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2004. ZZ Top’s members are known for their long beards and hats. This classic band is embarking on a tour that starts in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 2 and concludes May 25 in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Enormously popular in the 1980′s, Foreigner continues to attract a significant fan following today. The phenomenally successful band has sold nearly forty million albums in North America and an incredible eighty million worldwide. Their tour starts up in San Antonio on April 15th and finishes June 29 in Hampton, New Hampshire.
Jason Kane is a vinyl record collector and avid music blogger. Jason writes for SoundStage Direct, an online vinyl record distributor.