MOLINE -- The musical trip down memory lane Saturday night at the i wireless Center was not a leisurely stroll by any means.
The return of the Midwest Rock 'n' Roll Express -- with Detroit's Ted Nugent, Champaign's REO Speedwagon, and Chicago's Styx -- was a deafening, pedal-to-the-metal thrill ride.
All three main acts (whether intentional or not) exuded a boastful, heartland pride, flag-waving patriotism, a seemingly honest love of performing, and an inspiration to the 8,000-plus boisterous fans to persevere no matter the odds or the circumstances.
In the land of the free and the home of the brave, by God, anything is possible. In Mr. Nugent's jingoistic, profane comments to the crowd in particular, he evoked the recent triumph over tragedy in Boston as evidence of America's greatness and iron resolve.
After a three-song acoustic set by 97X contest winner Doug Brundies of Davenport, strong in growly vocals and bluesy flavor, the 64-year-old Mr. Nugent and his band stormed the stage and suitably whipped the audience into a frenzy with his 50-minute defiant, powerful set.
Compared to the other two bands, Mr. Nugent and his frequent vocalist Derek St. Holmes provided an ear-splitting experience, pummeling us into aural submission, and the screaming guitars and vocals fairly drowned out any hope of making out lyrics. But I"m sure the fans of the Motor City Madman didn't need any help.
The searing, shattering performance was full of American heart and soul. He paid passing tribute to his Detroit roots by surprisingly pulling out snippets of some Motown gems, "My Girl," and "Johnny B. Goode."
With his swaggering bravado, unapologetic ego, and goal to make every show his best, Mr. Nugent had everyone singing along to his big hit, "Cat Scratch Fever," and made a heartfelt plea for all of us to help our neighbor in these confusing times.
Near his close, the band gave "Stranglehold" an appropriately hot, seething rendition -- like most Mr. Nugent's numbers, it was insistent and primal, and provided an emotional end-of-the-week release we all needed.
The more radio-friendly REO and Styx proved they can deliver poignant, soaring ballads and brutal, gut-wrenching rockers with equal force and conviction.
At 61, REO lead singer Kevin Cronin hasn't seemed to slow down, and his voice appeared even higher than I remember. Both Styx and REO got the eager audience to easily sing along with their copious (but far from mellow) hits -- in REO's case, including "Take It On the Run," "I Can't Fight This Feeling," "Time for Me to Fly," "Roll With the Changes," and "Keep on Lovin' You" as the a first encore, with Mr. Cronin's powerful piano.
REO unfurled its patriotic fervor with the band's salute to America in "Golden Country," before which Mr. Cronin praised the glories of freedom and the resilience and faith of ordinaryAmericans. A panoply of iconic American images showed on the large video screen during the song, artfully used by all throughout the night.
Mr. Cronin recalled the band's early days playing bars in Champaign, and brought back their hard rock of "Nobody Makes Me Feel Like You Do." While many of the band members sported gray hair, that can't take away their fire inside and ability to cut loose with the passion and energy of musicians 40 years younger.
REO closed with another call for everyone to keep on trying, working and get through tough times by helping each other. "Riding the Storm Out" was a full-throated anthem of hope and perseverance, with extra relevance in our country today. The boys of REO and Styx all looked like they were having a blast, and the shirtless (at the bows) drummer Bryan Hitt hurled some of his sticks into the crowd.
In an efficient show Saturday, where the wait between acts didn't seem long at all, Styx offered a typically powerhouse production to cap an amazing hour hours of music. They shot storms of confetti over the floor crowd at the start and finish to give the evening and especially fun atmosphere. And lead vocalists Tommy Shaw, Lawrence Gowan and James Young took turns at front roaring through a deep, quality catalog.
With the playful spirit and drive of Mr. Gowan (lead singer since 1999), I don't think anyone missed original Styx singer Dennis DeYoung in the classics "Lady," "Come Sail Away" and "The Grand Illusion."
He sports an equally high, piercing, and theatrical singing voice, and a delightful highlight Saturday was a string of goofy covers of several non-Styx hits -- starting with him tearing into the rich piano ending progression of "Layla," through a call-and-response with the crowd on "You Can't Always Get What You Want," "Sweet Dreams are Made of This," "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Another Brick in the Wall."
I think he truly was trying to stump us, but we being experts on retro rock -- the audience strongly came through each time, and Mr. Gowan loved us for it. "I'm bathing in the milk of classic rock," he exclaimed, and then joyfully led us in the swaying sing-along of "Come Sail Away," which starts as an aching ode to the sea, and of course rocks out blissfully and blisteringly.
The accompanying images of space seemed to embody the band's scope of ambition and artistry -- as limitless as the universe.
Mr. Shaw, 59, was also in impish and partying mode Saturday, as he wistfully recalled the days of vinyl, and album-oriented radio (extinct today), and he treated us to a dramatic, hard-edged cut from side 2 of "Grand Illusion," "Man in the Wilderness."
Mr. Young celebrated the recent legalization of marijuana in a couple states by performing a Styx rarity, 1975's "Light Up," which also echoed the Saturday sentiment -- "let's be happy; sweet, sweet sounds fill the air." Mr. Young also led Styx's flag-waving entry in "Miss America," with its heavy-metal flair, accompanied by red, white and blue video images, including the Statue of Liberty and dancing girls.
Styx couldn't get everything into its 70-minute set, but the biggest and best fit snugly -- including "Fooling Yourself," "Too Much Time on My Hands," "Blue Collar Man," and the big, lethal closer (with the Styx trademark of starting soft) "Renegade." An exhilarating, awesome end to a tremendously satisfying night.
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