(Live Review) STYX + REO SPEEDWAGON - Budweiser Stage Toronto, August 16/22
Review by Jeff Tighe
Having seen neither of these bands in their 1970s heydays, this reviewer snapped up the tickets offered to this show by a friend without much hesitation.
It was a packed house at the old amphitheatre at Ontario Place in Toronto, with approximately 15,000 fans in attendance. This is the fifth co-headlining tour for Styx and REO Speedwagon, so clearly these two Illinois bands have made some money performing together.
The bands switch off which comes on stage first regularly, and on this night REO started things off (following Canadian band Loverboy). REO's musical history is a split one, with the 1970s catalogue containing a steady stream of hard rock, while the albums from the 1980s and on are mostly radio-friendly ballads and pop-rock. Since the latter portion of their discography made them millions of dollars more than the former part, it was no surprise that their setlist concentrated on that.
Admittedly, the song selection was a disappointment for this reviewer, but not so for the fans in attendance who were undoubtedly less familair with the harder rocking 1970s material. But there were some older gems thrown into the mix, along with the schmaltzy pablum from their best selling Hi-Infidelity album. "Keep Pushin'", "Like You Do", "Ridin' the Storm Out" and "Time For Me to Fly" among others were welcome reflections on the former glory of a once great rock'n'roll band.
Lead vocalist Kevin Cronin's voice is still remarkably strong, despite his 70 year old age, and that was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of bassist Bruce Hall's voice, as was obvious when he took the lead vocals on the band's best song, "Back on the Road Again". However, it was still great to hear that road anthem live, so the sins of old age are forgiven. Speaking of old age, sole original member Neil Doughty was in fine form, as always, from behind his keyboard where he has been with REO since 1967.
The band finished on a high note with their classic "Roll With the Changes", perhaps the only oldie that the entire audience knew. However, overall REO gave the impression of a tired old band, going through the motions for something to do and a paycheque.
That was in direct contrast to Styx who took the stage with passion and energy that REO were sorely lacking. Opening with the short song "The Fight of Our Lives" from their excellent latest album, 2021's Crash of the Crown and then launching immediately into 1970s classics "Blue Collar Man" and "The Grand Illusion", it was clear that Styx were going to take charge in a way the earlier band couldn't.
Styx also focused on their older songs, the way all touring classic rock bands do, but the song selection was generally very good. Classics such as "Fooling Yourself", Come Sail Away" and "Renegade" were joined by some of the band's newer songs such as "Crash of the Crown", "Sound the Alarm" and "Lost at Sea".
The band is firmly under the control of lead vocalist and guitarist Tommy Shaw, 69, with original member James Young, 72, taking more of a laidback approach and other original member, bassist Chuck Panozzo, 73, limited to part-time status on stage for health reasons. Shaw's voice is as strong as ever, as is that of the other lead vocalist, keyboardist Lawrence Gowan (who is a spry 65). Styx took their foot off the gas peddle near the end of their set with the Gowan song "Criminal Mind" and a keyboard solo that was over-long, but there is no denying that they were well worth seeing.
REO Speedwagon setlist Don't Let Him Go Take It on the Run Keep Pushin' Live Every Moment That Ain't Love Tough Guys Can't Fight This Feeling Like You Do Time for Me to Fly Back on the Road Again Ridin' the Storm Out Keep On Loving You Roll With the Changes Sytx setlist The Fight of Our Lives Blue Collar Man (Long Nights) The Grand Illusion Lady Crash of the Crown Light Up Sound the Alarm Rockin' the Paradise Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) A Criminal Mind Too Much Time on My Hands Khedive Lost at Sea Come Sail Away Mr. Roboto Renegade