On May 15th, the Midwest Rock and Roll Express 2013 Tour rumbled into my area. Styx, Ted Nugent, and REO Speedwagon top this three-ring circus. It really is surprising to me, and others, that these three tour together, considering how distinctly different each band is. However, this motley crew of a tour provided plenty of surprises and zero disappointment.
As the tour rumbled on into the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana, the gorgeous weather could not have prepared me for the onslaught of phenomenal classic rock that I was about to partake in. Classic rock was coming into town, full-force.
As Ted Nugent took the stage, electricity was in the air. Coming out, guns a-blazing, it was in your face hard rock. Even the cattle skulls he had as decoration were lit up with red lights in their eyes. Their first song of the set was “Wango Tango”, and the crowd erupted into an uproar. As they powered on through, they didn’t bother to stop before the next song, “Just What the Doctor Ordered”. Derek St. Holmes (guitar, backup-vocals) shines with his harmony with Nugent.
Moving on into “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang”, Uncle Ted had exclaimed “I fucking love this shit!” As the crowd went wild, they plowed through the song with wild energy and followed with “Live It Up”. Members of the audience bobbed and rocked to it all.
The most impressive part of the set was the “Motown Tribute Medley” that they played. With the beats ever changing, “Wild” Mick Brown (drums) managed to keep the pace. Greg Smith (bass, backup-vocals) also had a chance to shine and played some fun, bouncing bass rhythms. Some highlights of the medley included a partial cover of The Temptations song “My Girl” and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”.
“Hey Baby” played right before the biggest crowd-pleaser of the night. “Are you guys ready to hear the coolest riff in the world?” Uncle Ted had asked the audience, as he rips into the opening chords of “Cat Scratch Fever”. All around me, everyone sang the chorus along with Nugent, and showed more energy than previously. “Stranglehold”, the other crowd-pleaser followed right after, with audience members in an uproar.
Finally, they ended their set with the seminal “Great White Buffalo”. Everyone continued to rock out with the band. Whether you like Ted Nugent or not, or whether or not you disagree with his political views, you cannot deny that the man is a great entertainer. The amount of energy he showcased on stage was unreal!
Styx, the legendary 70s band, whom some of their most memorable hits have been “Come Sail Away”, “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” and “Mr. Roboto”, took to the stage as the second act. Busting right out of the gate, they blasted us with “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)”. These veteran musicians were running around the stage like they were still in their 20s! James “J.Y.” Young (guitars, vocals) and Tommy Shaw (guitars, vocals) run about the stage in wild abandon, even as they broke out the second song of the night, “The Grand Illusion”. The band, in full force, hammered on, showing off an exuberant amount of playfulness on stage. Lawrence Gowan (keyboard, vocals) had his signature rotating keyboard out, using it to great effect. Rotating it where the keyboard was behind him, he would rock on out, playing backwards.
Ricky Phillips (bass, vocals) bounced around, slinging his bass throughout the set, song after song. “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”, a lesser known song, had the band rocking all out, with members of the audience joining in on the rhythm as Todd Sucherman (drums) pounded the skins.
“Lady” brought all the women out to the floor, to slowly dance around. This beautiful ballad showed a soft, but playful side of Styx. Veering more to the playful, and pleasure side, “Light Up” followed. The crowd took notice, and I thought I caught a whiff of smoke amongst members in the audience.
A very deep cut from the album, The Grand Illusion, “Man in the Wilderness” was played. This grandiose song is relatively new to their set, only being played in the last few years. It’s a wonderful selection to add to their set list.
So they weren’t the only band showing something a little patriotic, as they played “Miss America”. The song seems to be a love song to both a woman, and our nation. Then, they must have felt they had “Too Much Time On My Hands”, as the crowd began to sing the chorus in unison!
This was the moment that the Styx fans were here for. As Lawrence prepared the crowd, he tested their mettle by singing pieces of popular songs, and have the audience finish them. He started off with “Hey hey mama said the way you move” from Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”. Next, he tested them with “We don’t need no”, with the crowd responding “education!”, building excitement with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. Finally, without further ado, Lawrence enticed the crowd to sing “Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me” before hopping back to his keyboards to play the intro to “Come Sail Away”. This song is their magnum opus, and probably their best known track. The band played with in inordinate amount of fervor. JY, Tommy, and Ricky were all rocking out with each other, side by side. Todd pounded away the drums as if not only his life, but the world depended on it. On top of his keyboard stand, Lawrence took to riling the crowd up more, while singing out his heart and soul. This was the performance that fans were here for!
Lights out. “Come Sail Away” was over, and the band thanked everyone before walking off stage. Wait a minute, the lights stayed out longer than normal. It was time for an encore! Returning to the stage, the band had various knick-knacks to throw out to the audience. It appeared to be a few drumsticks, lots of guitar picks, and several t-shirts. After the various gifts were given, we were rocking out to “Rockin’ the Paradise”! This energetic number was a lot of fun to experience. To end their encore, we joined in to be a “Renegade”. A fitting end to their show, which was full of energy, veteran musicianship, and amazing music.
I only had the chance to witness Ted Nugent and Styx’s sets. Due to some prior arrangements, I had to leave the floor. However, the show was amazing, and I’m sure REO Speedwagon put on a phenomenal show, just as much as the other bands. That being said, I strongly recommend catching the Midwest Rock and Roll Express 2013 Tour if you can. Great music, great bands, and certainly a great show!