It’s hard to believe that REO Speedwagon has been around since 1967. Closely tied to the early-to-mid 1980s as a hit-making factory, the band churned out a handful of tunes that have become part of our pop cult lexicon. I remember, back in early 1985, that it was next to impossible to not turn the radio on, hit any pop station on the dial and not hear “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” a tune for which the band is perhaps most-well known.
With the exception of the death of Gary Richrath (who died in 2015, but left the band in 1989), and a small revolving door of “guest” musicians, the outfit has stayed pretty much together. Neil Doughty, a founding member in 1967 still holds up his spot behind the keys, vocalist Kevin Cronin has been with the band since the early 1970s, and bassist Bruce Hall joined right before the band broke out in the late 1970s. As a matter of fact, the two “new” members, Bryan Hitt on drums and Dave Amato on lead guitar, joined the band in 1989.
So, unlike many legacy acts where only one member still tours (or like Foreigner, despite the fact that they’re basically a cover band at this point, and STILL sell out shows whenever they play), REO Speedwagon has a pedigree more akin to Aerosmith or ZZ Top. My point is that when you plunk down $75 or a hundred bucks you’re gonna see and hear the musicians that played on the albums that you adored in your youth.
That fact wasn’t lost on the hometown crowd last night at the Hard Rock Rocksino. From the very first strains of the first tune until the encore the fans knew what they wanted to hear. When they got their wish they let the band know: the majority of the crowd were on their collective feet all night. At one point, as I was sitting for a moment taking notes for this review, I was chastised by a middle-aged woman who, clearly imbibing too much of her favorite poison, wondered why the hell I was sitting down? I guess she took it as a personal affront that I wasn’t praising Cronin and Co. by taking a few notes in a more comfortable position.
In a slightly abbreviated show, the set list ran thirteen tunes, REO hit all the right notes. Showcasing all of their hits, the show included a few deeper cuts as well. “Son of a Poor Man,” from 1973’s Ridin’ The Storm Out was a mid-set offering. “Music Man,” from R.E.O./T.W.O. also made an early appearance.
A handful of tunes from their breakout album, 1980’s Hi Infidelity, showed off the outfit’s tight sound. After playing together as this incarnation for almost thirty years, they’ve all aged gracefully. “Don’t Let Him Go,” “Tough Guys,” and especially “Keep On Loving You” all made me remember what a great record that Hi Infidelity was; it’s aged well since its release almost forty years ago.
“Time For Me To Fly” and its intricate harmonies came across well; the hairstyles may have changed a bit since they first recorded the tune but their voices haven’t. If anything, the timbre of Cronin’s voice has only gotten better with age.
Of course, the place went nuts whenever they laid into one of their mega hits. Women started dancing in the aisles and couples were putting on massive displays of public affection when Cronin started into “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” Ditto when the strains of “Keep On Loving You,” the first of two encore songs, started.