Leg 2 of the summer’s hottest tour gets underway tonight in Tampa, Florida. We check in with Styx, Don Felder, and REO Speedwagon to see how UWR has been going for them so far, and what fans can expect from the next round of shows.
by Mike Mettler
photo by Jason Powell
After a brief 2-week break, United We Rock returns! Leg 2 of the summer’s hottest tour commences tonight, July 18, at the Mid Florida Credit Union Ampitheatre in Tampa, Florida, when Don Felder and his ace band will hit the stage promptly at 7:00 p.m. for their 50-minute opening set. They’ll then be followed by full 75-minute sets from both Styx and REO Speedwagon (though we won’t spoil things here by saying who goes on before/after whom).
Incidentally, if you haven’t gotten your tickets yet for tonight’s show — or for any of the upcoming UWR dates — immediately head on over to the TOUR section to get ’em in hand. (We’ll wait.)
Your humble Styxologist was honored to be on hand for the very first week of UWR out on the West Coast back in June, and I will again be on hand for the next string of dates starting tomorrow night in West Palm Beach, Florida, so keep your eye on this space (as well as in Styxology, if you’re a LOUNGEmember) for my firsthand reports from behind the scenes.
In the meantime, since I had the opportunity to chat with various members of Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Don Felder’s band at various points during that first UWR tour leg, I’m going to share some of them here now. Read on to find out how Styx feels audiences have been reacting to the new material they’re playing from The Mission, Tommy Shaw’s explanation of the part of the stage that’s known as “The Thrust,” how Don Felder and REO Speedwagon guitarist Dave Amato worked out their parts on “Hotel California,” and more. Can’t stop rocking. . .
Mike Mettler: How do you feel things have come across to the audiences you’ve had on the United We Rock tour so far? How are people responding to brand-new material from The Mission like “Gone Gone Gone” and “Radio Silence”?
Tommy Shaw (Styx guitarist/vocalist): Well, we were ready to play the new material. And there’s nothing like letting it age a little bit onstage. You know the parts, but there’s nothing quite like actually getting up in front of people and playing it for them.
Anytime a band says, “We’re going to play some songs off of our new album,” you can almost feel the audience as a group do a massive, “Ohh nooo!” kind of a cringe. But we felt strongly enough about The Mission that we were going to take that risk. Of course, we’re looking out of the corner of our eye: “Uhh, is anybody getting up to go to the bathroom?” But people stayed!
The new songs do fit right into the rest of our set, and it’s just so nice to have something new with the energy of a “Gone Gone Gone” along with the proggier side of Styx, with “Radio Silence,” to play for everyone.
James “JY” Young (co-founding Styx guitarist/vocalist): After playing the new music for a number of shows now on this tour, I must say it’s been a delight that people are responding to “Radio Silence” the way they are. I think the advance work we’ve done in promoting the new record has paid off.
In many instances, we’ve played for the Styx faithful who’ve bought it or downloaded it in advance. Because it sounds like classic Styx, it’s being reacted to as reminiscent of a few of our other songs. Ultimately, I’m extremely pleased with the way the band is playing the music and extremely pleased the whole way the set is flowing and going.
Lawrence Gowan (Styx keyboardist/vocalist): Well, I love when life finally conforms to the script. (both laugh) Tommy [Shaw] and I were recently talking about this on the bus. There’s always a little trepidation in playing a new song like “Radio Silence,” especially when you have such a legacy of material you have to put it right up against. It hasn’t taken the audiences too long to absorb and relate to the album, so to see that kind of response right off the top of the tour has been really great. It’s just so gratifying.
Todd Sucherman (Styx drummer): I haven’t been super-comfortable taking the temperature of the audience yet because I’m still concentrating deeply on playing the music the best that I can. But it sounds to me like, at the end of “Radio Silence,” the crowd response to it is like it is to any other song in the set. I hope that trend continues!
Ricky Phillips (Styx bassist/background vocalist): My friends are saying they can hear all the harmonies and they think we’re even better as a band out there, even though they couldn’t imagine us even being any better. I hate that that may sound a bit self-centered (both laugh), but it’s nice to hear your friends tell you that! And “Gone Gone Gone” also seems to be serving its purpose. It's a song that really kicks off the show just right — and then it’s over. It leaves you wanting more.
THE SCOOP ON THE THRUST
Mettler: Tommy, what can you tell me about the new ramp we see you guys are using onstage — or The Thrust, as it’s called in the business? Why did you decide to add that to the stage for this tour?
Shaw: It’s something we’d never done before, but we experienced it on tour with Def Leppard [in 2015], even though we didn’t use it then ourselves. We just decided to give it a shot on this tour, because it’s a nice way to get out amongst the people out in front. All of a sudden, the people in the fifth row are in the front row!
It’s just another nice place for us to go out there. It’s another destination on the stage for a more dramatic effect.
Mettler: After you did the first rehearsal [at Sunlight Supply Ampitheatre in Ridgefield, Washington, on June 19], Jimmy [i.e., guitar tech Jimmy “JJ” Johnson] moved your wah-wah pedal out to the lip of The Thrust for you to use when you take your solo on “The Grand Illusion” before you throw things back over to JY for his solo.
Shaw: Yes! Yes, because it’s usually up on the riser in the back. JY was the one who pointed out the obvious, which he’s very good at. (chuckles) There are so many details and everybody’s heads are all full of stuff, and JY is very good at being in the moment.
Mettler: That’s what those rehearsals are for. And now you’ve got that perfect set bookend with “The Outpost” now playing over the P.A. after “Renegade” finishes your set, followed by “Mission to Mars.”
Shaw: I love it! We’re still adjusting to it, but it’s so nice to be doing different stuff. Time goes by, and you find yourself wanting to do different things like that.
WELCOME TO THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA
Mettler: Don, how do you feel the United We Rock sets have been going so far?
Don Felder (guitarist/vocalist): The sets have just been magical — not only my set, but all three sets. The crowd has just been responding unbelievably well to all three shows. By the end of the night, everybody’s up dancing and rocking, no matter who’s closing the show.
When Tommy [Shaw] comes out and plays with me in my set on [**SPOILER ALERT!**] “Take It Easy” and Dave [Amato, REO Speedwagon guitarist] comes out and joins me on “Hotel California” — it’s just magical. It’s the best time out there, and there’s really an “up” energy to it all. We have a lot of fun.
Mettler: I love seeing the camaraderie you all have onstage. Everybody likes playing with each other, and that comes across to the audience.
Felder: We’re just having too much fun! That’s what it’s all about. If it’s not fun, then I don’t wanna do it. This is just so exciting. Every time Tommy walks out to sit in, I get charged and electrified. He comes out with this almost childish smile on his face (both laugh), and the crowd feels that — and they light up.
Mettler: And then you have Dave come out to join you on “Hotel California.” When did you know you wanted him to come onstage to play that solo with you?
Felder: Well, we did the Rock Legends Cruise together with REO [i.e., the Rock Legends Cruise V, January 19-23, 2017, on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas]. And Dave also plays in this show in Las Vegas [Raiding the Rock Vault, at the Tropicana] sometimes when he’s not on tour with REO, and he plays my parts on a white double-neck guitar. He was telling me he liked my white double-neck so much, that he went back and bought the one he was playing in that show, which was the Don Felder Signature model.
After he bought it, I said, “Wow, I’m flattered that you like it so much.” And he said, “Will you show me how to play it exactly the way you play it?” After I showed it to him, I said, “Why don’t you come out and sit in, and you can play the harmonies with me?” We worked out all the harmonies back on the Rock Legends Cruise. And when this [UWR] tour came up, I said, “You gotta come out and play this with me. It’ll be fun! We’ll have a great time.” We decided to work it out, and here we are.
Mettler: Dave, tell me how you got involved with Don and “Hotel California.”
Dave Amato (REO Speedwagon guitarist): Long story short — Rock Vault was at the Tropicana last year, and the show had borrowed the guitar from Gibson. They had the white double-neck like Don uses on “Hotel California” — and it happened to be the Don Felder Signature model, #46 of 50. I played it, and it was the best double-neck I’ve ever played.
When I was out touring with REO, Rock Vault wasn’t doing anything with the guitars for a while, so they went back to Gibson, and I tracked it down. I said to them, “I want that guitar really, really bad!” (chuckles) Gibson said they’d sell it to me, because I was a Gibson endorsee, and I’m good for that guitar. And everyone’s now ticked at me, because they all loved that Felder! (laughs)
Mettler: Well, hey, you struck first.
Amato: Yeah, I went after it! Anyway, I saw Don Felder on the Rock Cruise. I approached him there and told him I loved his double-neck, and he invited me to play “Hotel” with him. I said, “Are you kidding me? Really??”
I knew some of it, but the version done with Rock Vault was somewhat twisted, because I knew half of [Joe] Walsh’s solo, and half of Felder’s solo. And Don goes, “Ah, come down to my room, and I’ll teach you the rest of the solo.” And I’m like, “Alright, yeah!!” I went to his room, and he showed me the rest of the part. I guess I played it pretty well on the boat because he said, “Hey, let’s maybe do something this summer” — and here we are.
I was a little nervous at first with it, to be honest. I have total respect for Don. He’s a great person, and a fantastic guitar player. He’s mega, you know? Whatever he wants me to do, I’ll do. If he doesn’t want me out there, I won’t do it, but every night he says, “Come on — let’s go!” So I’m glad to do it.
Mettler: That’s almost exactly how Don described it! Finally, Dave, what’s your overall assessment of the United We Rock tour so far?
Amato: It’s like family, being out there with Styx. We’re all family. I love those guys. Other tours don’t go as smooth as this one does. I’m just happy to be here. It is fantastic. It really is. And I also love being with all the techs, and the road crew — I mean, we’ve done it together for years. And it’s mostly all pretty much the same guys too!
I can only say all good things about the guys in Styx and Don Felder and his band. Family is the best word for it. We used to call it the 11-man band, with Chuck [Panozzo, original Styx bassist] there — it’s five of us, and six of them. They’re all my bros.
Mettler: To wrap things up, Tommy, I also like how [**SPOILER ALERT!**] you’ve flopped “Blue Collar Man” and “Too Much Time on My Hands” in the set. I think “Too Much Time” gets an even louder response where it is now.
Shaw: I think so too! It’s kind of a “relief” song. It’s easy and fun to sing along with, and the audience also knows more’s coming. And I like to see people stand, if they’re not already standing up. Most of the time they are, but if not, I always encourage them to stand up. Just like in church — they have you stand up and sit down, because they don’t want certain parts of your body to fall asleep. (both chuckle)
Mettler: I like to stand whenever I can, that’s for sure. I figure if there are big screens at the venue, then you can see everything on them if you want. Because of those screens, no one is blocking your view anymore, as far as I’m concerned.
Shaw: Yes! You can’t get too relaxed at a rock show. Certainly not at this one!
Stay tuned to Styxworld for more reports from the frontlines and backlines of United We Rock!