Nostalgia came in the form of earth-shattering guitars and ear-splitting volume Wednesday night at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Before a packed, but not sold out, crowd, REO Speedwagon, Styx and Ted Nugent — also known as the Midwest Rock-N-Roll Express — each took their turn rocking the crowd with hits of yesteryear, keeping the evening firmly rooted in the classics. The bands all still had the chops to pull it off, too, topping each other in succession.
The Motor City Madman himself, Nugent, took the stage first, at 7, shortly after a brief acoustic set by local singer-songwriter Rich Ortiz. Nugent’s truncated set may have been short on bells and whistles, but there was no lack of the guitarist’s usual caustic remarks and caustic playing — and a little of this certainly goes a long way.
Nugent was at his best when he focused on his shredding, letting second guitarist Derek St. Holmes take vocals on “Just What the Doctor Ordered” and “Live it Up.” But the audience got the best of both worlds on “Stranglehold,” with Nugent’s snarling punctuating his roaring guitar solo.
Styx was up next, taking the evening from rude and crude to loud and flamboyant with an hour-plus set. Lead guitarist and occasional lead vocalist Tommy Shaw took the spotlight for most of the set and delivered the strongest vocal performances, wowing immediately with his octave-shattering runs on set opener “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights).” His tribute to Richie Havens mid-set — a few bars of the legendary folkie’s Woodstock-opening “Freedom” — was surprisingly effective, and segued into perhaps the best performance by any band the entire evening, “Man in the Wilderness.”
“The Grand Illusion,” “Lady” and “Miss America” all hit hard and went down easy with the crowd. Keyboardist Lawrence Gowan did his best Dennis DeYoung for the climactic “Come Sail Away,” and came remarkably close — or close enough for this nostalgia trip, anyway.
Lacking Nugent’s ridiculous stage presence and Styx’s swirling keyboards, headliners REO Speedwagon came across as the most conservative band of the bunch. But they quickly showed why they got the top slot on the bill — the five-piece’s playing was the tightest of any group to hit the stage, with bassist Bruce Hall and drummer Bryan Hitt particularly locking down the groove with the opening one-two-three punch of “Don’t Let Him Go,” “Take It on the Run” and the fiery “Keep Pushin’.”
It was another hour-plus of rocking that never let up, with all five members firing on all cylinders. Vocalist Kevin Cronin shone brightest on the mid-set ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” while guitarist Dave Amato had plenty of chance to show of his shredding on “Golden Country” and the energetic “That Ain’t Love.”