Our insider report on the opening nights of the Renegades in the Fast Lane residency, which has gotten off to a rousing start.
by Mike Mettler
photo by Jason Powell
“Viva Las Vegas — as they say in español!”
Styx co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young is grinning ear to ear as he roars the above sentiment before imploring the crowd to “Light up, everybody!” — a command that’s immediately followed by the familiar and welcome sight of a plethora of cellphone camera lights being waved in the air in time with the palpable and exuberant drive of “Light Up.” This forever-classic Styx song, culled from 1975’s breakthrough Equinox album, continues to be a live-set favorite as the calendar has turned to 2017.
Styx is back on the road, y’all!
It’s Night 2 of Styx and Don Felder’s five-show Renegades in the Fast Lane residency that’s taking place from January 6-14 at the storied Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, and everyone is already firing on all cylinders. To be sure, Night 1 was an historic event, as — SETLIST SPOILER ALERT! — former Eagles guitarist/vocalist Don Felder joined Styx midway through the show and hit the ground running to front classics like “Take It Easy,” “The Long Run,” “Heartache Tonight,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Hotel California,” and especially “Seven Bridges Road,” the mostly a cappella five-part-harmony vocal gem that garners the most enthusiastic of audience responses. It also evokes that unmistakable “I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” look on so many faces in the crowd. That, my friends, is testament to the power that’s inherent in undoctored, unmodulated, and purely live vocals.
Felder and Styx have shared the stage a number of times in the past — including as recently as May 15, 2016 in Atlanta — and many of you may also have seen Don’s opening set during 2014’s Soundtrack of Summer tour, which also featured Styx and Foreigner in the rotating headlining slot. On that tour, Styx guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw joined Don and his band onstage to play guitar and sing co-lead vocals on “Hotel California.” Styx drummer Todd Sucherman also came out to play tambourine during “Hotel” on the SoS tour — but now, during this residency, he gets to be behind the kit for the entire song.
During SoS, Felder returned the favor by joining Styx onstage to add his blazing guitar riffage to “Blue Collar Man” — something you can see for yourself on the recently released Live at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas DVD and Blu-ray. And while Don doesn’t play with the guys on “BCMan” this time around, he does stay onstage after “Hotel” to jam along with Styx on “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Renegade.”
As exciting as Night 1 (January 6) clearly was, the energy was ramped up even more on Night 2 (January 7), thanks to the crowd being allowed to stand throughout the entire show. (Security appeared to have been asking audience members to sit down repeatedly during Night 1.) That level of shared energy is never lost on the band or Felder, who consistently respond to what their audience gives back to them.
“We totally feed off of that energy,” agrees Felder backstage about 10 minutes after participating in the rousing all-in “Renegade” encore on Night 2, still sporting the black David Gilmour live t-shirt he wore onstage underneath his leather jacket. “It just drives us even more to give back as much as we can up there.”
“It’s so much fun playing these songs with Don,” adds Shaw, while leaning on the doorjamb of his dressing room and looking across the hallway at his tourmate and longtime friend, who smiles and nods back with appreciation. “I love that man! Which songs do I like the best? I like ’em all! When you’re onstage playing with Don, you get a guitar lesson just looking at him. He’s got such great technique. I feel like I’m learning something new every night. I’m just trying to keep up with him!”
The aforementioned five-part harmony is but one of the elements that make this show that much more special. The vocal blend between Shaw, Felder, JY, keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan, and bassist/vocalist Ricky Phillips is such a fine sight to see and hear. It’s especially impactful during the verses of “Take It Easy,” the entirety of the aforementioned “Seven Bridges Road” — your Styxologist’s favorite song in the set, which also has a verse section focusing on the Shaw/Gowan-only blend — “Hotel,” “Fast Lane,” and “Renegade.” Notes Felder, “I’ve always admired the way these guys sing onstage live. They’re masters of harmony.”
Other highlights include — SETLIST SPOILER ALERT, PART II! — Shaw and Gowan’s take on “Hallelujah,” a touching tribute to the late Leonard Cohen akin to their reading of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” during 2016, and the continued resurgence/re-emergence of “Snowblind,” a JY and Tommy-led deep-cut favorite from 1981’s Paradise Theatre that returned to the set in early 2016.
But don’t just take my word for it. Three more shows are left in the Renegades in the Fast Lane residency coming up on January 11, 13, and 14 — and there are even a few choice tickets left to be had for them, if you’re so inclined to take the ride. Go here for further information, and come join us all in the Fast Lane in Vegas if you can!