Originally created 01/26/01

Speedwagon remains same after 30 years

I suppose it could have been worse.

Monday, two of rock's dinosaurs, R.E.O. Speedwagon and Styx, lumbered into the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center and asked an audience to believe that, after 30 years, their music was still relevant.

The show opened with a set by R.E.O. Speedwagon, a stripped-down five-piece band that hit the stage running. Speedwagon, it seems, is a band that in its heart still plays to overflowing stadiums on hot summer Saturday nights, instead of a half-full (respectable by Augusta standards) arena on a cold Monday evening.

Initially, I believed that R.E.O. Speedwagon's particular brand of Midwest rock had long passed its sell-by date and that, despite the band's obvious pleasure in playing, its glory days were a thing of the past.

Then it dawned on me. That's the point.

What R.E.O. Speedwagon does, and does exceedingly well, is play time-capsule rock. Sure, the band's set might have 1982 written all over it, but that's the point. That's what the fans came to see, and that's what this band loves to play. Thirty years removed from the garage, Speedwagon still longs for it. The musicians play not to pay for expensive sports cars and loose women but because they still love playing the anthems of their youth.

When Speedwagon singer Kevin Cronin croons about not being able to fight a feeling anymore, he can inspire an audience enough that it no longer recognizes the ridiculousness of holding a lighter aloft. I was a little sorry I hadn't brought one myself.

R.E.O. Speedwagon had, against my better judgment, sold me.

Styx would not.

Art rock has a problem, and its name is Styx. The band's music, complex and rife with technical prowess, has been all but drained of emotional content. Playing on a stage set that combined the unlikely elements of bad science fiction art and the radiator grill from a 1950 Buick, the band depends on building a cold, brittle aural artifice and subpar stage antics to keep the audience's attention.

It's a lot like watching a train wreck. You want to turn away but just can't.

Central to the problem is lead guitarist James Young, who has not realized after 30 years on stage that it is no longer cool to prance around wielding a guitar like a six-string fertility symbol.

Missing what may have been the one chance at redemption. Styx never called R.E.O. Speedwagon to the stage for assistance. When two bands co-headline like this, the multi-member jam should be a requirement, but the closest call Monday was an all-too brief appearance by Speedwagon guitarist Dave Amato at the tail end of a single number.

Self-indulgent and bloated, Styx seemed more concerned with mock pomp and circumstance than connecting with its audience. In fact, the only moment of authentic emotion seemed reserved for an inspired reading of the hit Come Sail Away. Sadly, a famous South Park interpretation had already messed that one up for us all.

Less rock than stone-faced, Styx is a dinosaur ready for extinction.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626.


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