LIVE REVIEW:

Loopfest: .38 Special, Sammy Hagar, Journey, Night Ranger, Shooting Star, Heart, REO Speedwagon, Styx
Tweeter Center, Tinley Park, IL
Friday-Saturday, July 18-19, 2003

It was like a class reunion last weekend at The Tweeter Center in Tinley Park, when WLUP-FM’s “Loopfest” took over the venue on both Friday and Saturday. While wristbands were required to purchase alcohol, they were largely unneeded; it was hard to find an audience member under 30. This was a 30something-plus celebration: the classes of 1979-85 coming together again to relive the glory days. And the lineup of classic rock bands delivered, especially headliners Journey and Styx, who, while touring without the lead singers that scored the bulk of their hits, have each found replacement vocalists who get the job done.

All of the bands on the bill had their greatest successes within a handful of years; in 1979, Styx scored its first #1 hit with “Babe,” and came back to the Top 10 in 1981 with “Too Much Time On My Hands” and “The Best of Times.” In 1980, Heart entered the Top 10 for the second time with “Tell it Like It Is” and REO Speedwagon hit its stride with a #1 in “Keep on Lovin’ You,” and one of the top albums of the decade in High Infidelity. In 1982, Journey hit its peak with the #2 “Open Arms,” Sammy Hagar scored his biggest solo hit with “Your Love is Driving Me Crazy” and .38 Special had its first Top 10 hit with “Caught Up in You.” The late bloomers of the bunch, in 1984, Night Ranger scored its top 5 signature anthem “Sister Christian.” For the generation at the dawn of the ‘80s, clearly, these were the bands that defined their lives. And they were all at Tweeter Center last Friday and Saturday.

.38 Special kicked things off on Friday night with a short set that unfortunately was missed by many who couldn’t get to the venue by 6 on a weeknight. Fans were still streaming in halfway through Sammy Hagar’s electrifying set, which included both his solo material and hits from his long stint with Van Halen. Hagar seems to be following Jimmy Buffett’s lead performance-wise these days; with a stage background filled with tropical themes, he acted more like the leader of Spring Break than of a hard rock band. The party atmosphere of his set was multiplied by the 75+ audience members he installed in three riser platforms at the rear of the stage. Those lucky fans sang along to nearly every song, from his cover of Van Halen’s “Right Now” to his own 1984 anthem, “I Can’t Drive 55.”

But the real draw of Friday night came with the multimedia attack of Journey, who made good use of a giant projection screen at the rear of the stage to both magnify the members of the band as well as to project videos, including promotional nods to their web site, a tribute to their roadies and depictions of all the album covers from their 30-year history.

From the opening pound of “Separate Ways” to their closing pledge of “Faithfully,” Journey delivered rousing renditions of a string of mega hits, including their classic ‘70s fare, “Wheel in the Sky,” “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’,” “Anytime,” “Any Way You Want It” and latter day hits like the schmaltzy “Be Good To Yourself.” They avoided material from their most recent LP (and first with new singer Steve Augeri), instead focusing on the jammy new material from their recent EP, Red 13. Diehard fans sang along with the newer songs, but many in the audience took a mid-set break when the band pulled out its new material.

Saturday opened with an overly loud set from ‘80s rock heroes Night Ranger, who proved they can still “Rock in America,” playing that hit as well as “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and their trademark anthem “Sister Christian.” Their set was unfortunately amplified at a painfully high decibel level, but leader Jack Blades proved a still-entertaining stage presence, and pleased Damn Yankees fans by including “Coming of Age,” a hit he sang as a member of the Yankees with Styx’s Tommy Shaw. Disappointingly, however, Shaw, who appeared at the end of the day with Styx, didn’t join the band on stage for the song.

Shooting Star followed Night Ranger (who hurried off the stage at 3:45 p.m. to drive to a night show in Indiana), and while many in the crowd were asking “who the heck are these guys?” at the start of Shooting Star’s Survivor-meets-Kansas style set, by the closing strains of “Last Chance,” a regional hit the Kansas City band enjoyed in the early ‘80s, much of the audience was on its feet singing along.

Heart took the stage at the end of Saturday afternoon, and like Journey the night before, pulled the crowd to its feet for crackling renditions of its mid-‘70s hits, opening with the apropos “Kick it Out” and “Straight On,” before testing the waters with a new song and then diving back into a classic in “Even It Up” and a laidback performance of “These Dreams.” While the band’s stage set was lost in the glare of a late afternoon sun, Ann Wilson made up for the poor performing conditions. She proved she’s lost none of her phenomenally powerful range over the years, a fact not lost on the audience, who screamed in appreciation when Wilson hit some of her high notes. While fans slipped back to their seats for the band’s new material due on an upcoming album, one track, “The Perfect Goodbye” sounded particularly promising. After covering a Led Zeppelin song, and closing with an earth-shaking “Barracuda” and encore of “Magic Man,” Heart slipped away with the beginning of sunset, and REO Speedwagon took over the stage shortly thereafter.

Sporting a bleached coif and a silver stage set, REO singer Kevin Cronin kept the audience on its feet for much of the band’s hour and a half set, opening with their classic “Riding The Storm Out” (their first top 100 hit in 1977) and later delivering most of the songs from the hit-laden High Infidelity, offering “Don’t Let Her Go,” “Keep on Lovin’ You,” “In Your Letter” and “Take it On the Run.” The crowd joined in on them all, and grew deafening when it sang along with “Time For Me To Fly.” The band encored with an abbreviated version of its classic performance piece, “157 Riverside Avenue,” which sadly lacked the humor and impact the band once gave to the song as an impromptu jam in its heyday. Still, REO delivered, with Cronin still playing the entertaining storyteller at the mic (this time talking about a trip to the Playboy mansion) and the band cranking out hit after hit, including “Back on the Road Again,” “Roll with the Changes,” and their ever-popular “Golden Country.”

When Styx finally took the stage at 9:30, the venue was finally dark and ready for the powerhouse rock and light show of Chicago’s favorite ‘70s sons.

New band leader Tommy Shaw opened the show with his biggest hit from Styx’s heyday, “Too Much Time On My Hands,” followed by performances of “The Grand Illusion” and “Lorelei,” before launching into “Waiting For My Time To Come,” a song from the band’s latest release, Cyclorama that received a lukewarm audience reception. The crowd was there for “Blue Collar Man,” “Lady, and “Come Sail Away,” all of which the band delivered, the latter two thanks to newcomer Lawrence Gowan. They also offered a medley that began and ended with Crystal Ball’s “Put Me On,” and included “Light Up,” “Mademoiselle,” “Heavy Metal Poisoning,” “Living on the Edge,” “Great White Hope,” “Borrowed Time,” “Mr. Roboto,” Rockin’ The Paradise,” and more.

Bassist Glen Burtnik, who subbed for Shaw in the ‘90s, and these days replaces original bassist Chuck Panozzo, popped up in the middle of the pavilion audience to sing a new track, “Kiss Your Ass Goodbye,” and Panozzo himself turned up to make a guest appearance on “Foolin’ Yourself” and “Come Sail Away.” The band encored with Shaw’s first Top 20 hit with Styx from 1979, the pounding “Renegade.”

The sound at Tweeter for the weekend was filled with echoes of the past, and while some of those echoes were just due to the bad acoustics of the venue, nevertheless, fans exulted in hearing the reverberations of their high school hits one more time.