[I’m on with my rock ‘n’ roll pal Kaedy Kiely at 97.1 The River every Wednesday at 6:50 and 7:50 a.m. to talk about the latest music news. Tune in to hear what’s up!]
If you didn’t know at least 80 percent of the three-and-a-half hours of music played at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Sunday night, clearly the record player and radio haven’t worked for a few decades.
The triple bill of former Eagles guitarist Don Felder, hearty rockers 38 Special and perennial road warriors Styx provided an evening of barroom jukebox favorites that were rooted in nostalgia but presented with verve.
Felder, best known for his work in the Eagles from 1974-2001 (let’s all pause a moment to reflect on the greatness of the guy who wrote the music for “Hotel California”) launched the night with a romping set.
“Already Gone” and “Victim of Love” were delivered adeptly by Felder and his four-piece band, while the man himself, looking toned and California sun-dappled, effortlessly tossed out slide guitar licks during “The Long Run.”
Felder, 68, seemed genuinely happy to be onstage as he smiled easily and popped thumbs-up signs at the crowd.
Felder’s voice leans sweeter than Don Henley’s familiar rasp or the late Glenn Frey’s buttery tone, so he styled “Heartache Tonight” and “Life in the Fast Lane” with his own vocal cadences while never losing the essence of the originals.
Felder’s guitar playing was as nimble as ever, sounding like 100 trucks barreling down a highway on “Life in the Fast Lane” and almost harp-like on “Hotel California.” That fan favorite saw not only Felder’s iconic double neck guitar make an appearance, but also Styx’s Tommy Shaw, who shared vocals and guitar parts with the celebrated musician.
The boys in 38 Special – singer Don Barnes, guitarist Danny Chauncey, keyboardist Bobby Capps, drummer Gary Moffatt and bassist Barry Dunaway – kickstarted their performance with their first hit, 1980’s “Rockin’ Into the Night.”
While the band’s early career frequently tagged them as Southern rockers, a few puffs of pop worked its way into their catalog as the ‘80s stretched on, most obviously on the keyboard-laden “Second Chance,” sung with gusto by Capps.
While Barnes’ voice mostly kept up with 38 Special’s meat-and-potatoes rock, there were a few off-key swerves in “You Keep Runnin’ Away” and “Fantasy Girl,” which sounded a bit out of his vocal reach.
But for the gist of the hourlong set, Barnes sounded strong – and the band taut – as hits including “Back Where You Belong,” “If I’d Been the One” and “Caught Up in You” prompted wolf whistles and raised drinks from the crowd.
“Thank you for taking a ride with us,” the genial Barnes said to boisterous fans, who gleefully sang along to set-closing fist-pumper, “Caught Up in You.”
Styx arrived onstage in their usual swirl of synthesizers and crisp guitars, unveiling “The Grand Illusion” with a whoosh of theatricality.
Guitarists/singers Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young know how to work the front line and immediately broke into rock god poses while grinning at fans and flicking souvenir guitar picks in their direction.
Songs such as “The Grand Illusion” and “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” never age with their themes of disillusionment and emotional tug of war. Given the songs’ lyrical resonance and the band’s signature layered sound, it isn’t difficult to understand why Styx continues to draw sellout crowds every summer (about 7,000 filled the Alpharetta venue).
It was a treat for longtime fans to see original bassist Chuck Panozzo make an appearance (he’s been part-time in the band since announcing in 2001 that he is living with HIV), and Shaw made sure he received a deserved ovation.
For most of the show, Ricky Phillips held down the bass lines, as Todd Sucherman kept the beat steady and Lawrence Gowan spun his keyboard and added his effective showmanship and dramatic vocals to “Lady.”
Shaw unleashed a blistering “Man in the Wilderness,” which was followed by Young’s customary contribution, “Miss America,” his voice the thundering complement to Shaw’s high range, which hasn’t lost its luster (neither has his hair, for that matter).
The band performed in front of a raised platform with inlaid monitors and flanked by stairs, which Shaw, Phillips and Young occasionally climbed.
As enjoyable as flamboyant Styx can be (really, who doesn’t want to sing along to “Come Sail Away” or “Rockin’ the Paradise” as much as possible?), some of the highlights of the band’s shows usually involve Shaw and an acoustic guitar.
That held true this time as well, as Shaw and Gowan performed a sumptuous “Space Oddity” under sparkly stage lights. The David Bowie tribute dovetailed into “Crystal Ball,” which began elegantly and escalated into a desperate plea.
Styx’s catalog is one of the most formidable in rock (you can call it classic, but the band might not like it – at least not according to one of their T-shirts being sold at the merchandise table) and nearly every summer they’ve surrounded themselves with likeminded tour mates.
It’s only to the fans’ benefit if their stamina stays intact a while longer.