Photos and Story by Scott A. Smith
Cool-breeze melodies and some of the most gripping guitar solos and riffs in all of rock-and-roll land are among the high points found on the new U.S. tour by Styx, Foreigner and former Eagles guitarist-singer Don Felder.
Billed as “The Soundtrack of Summer Tour,” the tour saw its second night at the Zoo Amphitheatre in Oklahoma City, with Felder and his four-piece solo band mixing his solo work with must-play Eagles numbers over the course of a well-received, 50-minute set. Donning sunglasses, black vest, black pants, black shoes and a polka-dotted, black-and-white shirt, a grinning Felder emerged from the backstage area to greet the all-ages audience with an impressive take of The Eagles’ “Take It Easy.” Felder handled the song’s lead vocals with ease — why Eagles founder Glenn Frey continues to erroneously claim Felder is no lead singer is one of music’s biggest head-scratchers. Felder’s voice sounded comfortable-yet-strong and carried every bit as much purpose and energy as his ex-bandmates. Felder even nailed the falsetto-ranged vocal parts on his outstanding reading of The Eagles’ “One of These Nights.”
Also hitting their intended marks were Felder’s guitar solos, which ranged from aggressive and bruising to relaxed, gliding, peace-making sounds. Felder’s solo versions of Eagles tracks “The Long Run,” “Heartache Tonight” and the wonderfully menacing “Those Shoes” were grade-A efforts; those “talk-box” guitar lines on the latter still sound as fresh and pioneering today as they were when Felder first help cut the original studio version at the tail end of the 1970s.
Felder and his vocally proficient group summoned numerous hollers of approval while performing the mostly a capella “Seven Bridges Road,” but it was Felder’s encore of the majestic “Hotel California,” the song he helped create for The Eagles’ most popular LP, which commanded the most cheers and respect. Styx’s Tommy Shaw sat in with Felder on the song, handling the guitar leads originally played by Eagle Joe Walsh. Watching and hearing Felder and Shaw playfully dogfight their way through the song’s sprawling instrumental section was worth the asking ticket price alone.
Following a brief, backstage huddle and the blasting, pre-recorded sounds of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Styx stormed onto the stage next, opening with an adrenaline-laced take of “The Grand Illusion.” Guitarists Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young traded gritty guitar licks while Lawrence Gowan sang and played his famous, spinning keyboard rig. Bassist Ricky Phillips strolled across the stage, letting his bass notes mesh perfectly with drummer Todd Sucherman’s assertive textures.
Like Felder’s set and Foreigner’s set to come, Styx’s section mostly favored hit singles, with “Lady,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Come Sail Away,” “Crystal Ball,” “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” keeping the proceedings FM fan-friendly. Thankfully for the die-hards, “Superstars” from the LP, “The Grand Illusion,” snuck its way into the concert as the sun dipped beyond the Oklahoma City skyline.
Another surprise was Styx’s inclusion of “Rockin’ the Paradise” before set-closer “Renegade” took the vibe to an even more intense level. Some fans initially wondered how show-closer Foreigner would match the high bar set by Styx and Felder, but those doubts and fears fell six feet under seconds after Foreigner took the stage for a one-two-punch attack of “Double Vision” and “Head Games. Foreigner founding guitarist/songwriter/producer Mick Jones mysteriously didn’t appear until five songs into the set, and Foreigner fans were thankful for Jones’ presence.
In early 2012, Jones underwent heart surgery, forcing him to sit out of several Foreigner gigs that year. The Oklahoma City show on May 16 seemed like a homecoming ceremony for Jones, who told the audience he was “happy and glad to be back.” Jones, in true team-player spirit, has kept his temporary 2012 replacement, guitarist Bruce Watson, onboard as a full-time Foreigner member. The duo’s six-string styles made pitch-perfect harmony for the hyper “Urgent” and the classic-rock cornerstone “Juke Box Hero.”
When it came time for “I Want to Know What Love Is,” Foreigner’s sometimes-misunderstood single from late 1984, the band was joined by a choir made up of Oklahoma City public school choir members. At that very moment, all of the ballad jokes evaporated. In Oklahoma City, as the wind came sweeping up through the amphitheatre, the concert’s version of “I Want to Know What Love Is” magically contained the same muscle and firepower as the “Hot Blooded” encore. Yes, that sounds like an impossible feat on paper, but it happened. For real.