It seems that every summer you can catch a show with arena rock legends Styx and REO Speedwagon. These two radio giants have had so much success touring together during recent years that it has became one of the most anticipated tours annually. The past couple of years, as an added bonus, they’ve even included the one and only Ted Nugent on most of the dates.
While last nights show didn’t include The Motor City Madman, there was certainly no shortage of highlights on stage as the two Illinois based bands played for a combined three hours. Feeding off of the energy coming from a packed Celeste Center at the 2013 Ohio State Fair, both bands played through their full sets with a fervor that is dependent on crowd participation.
REO Speedwagon, who are probably the only folks from Champaign, Illinois that are welcome this close to campus, got the night started. From the onset they had little trouble keeping the crowd engaged as they seamlessly mixed in their love songs and classic rock anthems. Of course, rock radio blew the band up with songs like “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Keep on Loving You”, but the real treat of their set were songs like “Golden Country”, “Time For Me to Fly”, “Roll With the Changes”, “Back on the Road Again”, and “Ridin’ The Storm Out”.
While Kevin Cronin gets most of the love for this band, he really hits it on the head when he talks about REO’s ‘secret weapon’. The current makeup of the rhythm section for this band is absolutely ridiculous. Bruce Hall is a tragically underrated bass player. Throw in the hard hitting Bryan Hitt behind the drum kit and the precise picking from Dave Amato on the lead guitar and their is a life that is brought to some of these songs that is absent from recorded versions. Another reason why I am so adamant about live music is that the bands get to play them the way they are intended to sound before the studio can change it. “That Ain’t Love” is a prime example of that as it comes off excellent live but not so much on the recorded release.
The other secret weapon for the band is Neal Doughtry on the keyboards. He might not get noticed as much on the stage while Kevin, Bruce, and Dave have the attention of the crowd. If you take away the element that he adds to REO Speedwagon, you could argue that there isn’t anything that separates them from any other band. When you throw all of those pieces together, you get a band that still sounds great forty plus years later.
About a half an hour after REO finished their set, the boys from Styx took to the stage with a set list that was determined to not be outdone. As they typically do, they opened their set with “Blue Collar Man” and “The Grand Illusion”, before making way for live staples “Foolin’ Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” and their ballad “Lady”.
The Columbus faithful were then treated to “Light Up”, which hasn’t been in the set since the seventies. More highlights followed with “Miss America” sandwiched in between the epic “Man in the Wilderness” and the uplifting “I’m O.K.”, before making way for some Tommy Shaw time and “Crystal Ball”.
Styx’ greatest asset in a live setting is that they are a band with world class showmanship. With the bombastic Lawrence Gowan leading the way on the keyboards and lead vocals and guitarists/vocalists Tommy Shaw and James “J.Y.” Young out front, they are a band that demands crowd participation. As always they delivered, with Ricky Phillips and Todd Sucherman providing the backing beat of it all.
That supreme showmanship was on full display as they kicked off the homestretch of the night with the mandatory crowd participatory “Too Much Time on My Hands”. As he tends to do, Gowan then warmed the crowd up for the bands crown jewel “Come Sail Away”, by ripping through a medley of classic rock gold that included The Eurythmics, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Queen, and Clapton.
The band came back out for a two song encore that kept the party going with “Rocking the Paradise” and “Renegade” before calling it a night.
While it is true that the nights are made possible by the bands on stage, I must give some credit where credit is due. The organizers of the fair never fail to bring in world class rock entertainment to the fans every year. In recent years they’ve also hauled in acts like Alice Cooper, ZZ Top, Quiet Riot, Slaughter, Ted Nugent, BOSTON, Kansas, Seether, Journey, Night Ranger, Chicago, and The Doobie Brothers. The Steve Miller Band will also be there later this week, continuing their capture of marquee talent. All in all if you are a fan of rock or metal music there is a good chance each year that The Fair will come through for you.