Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
By Jeb Wright
Don't Let Him Go | Music Man | Take It on the Run | Keep Pushin' | Golden Country | That Ain't Love| Can't Fight This Feeling | Like You Do | Son of a Poor Man | Keep the Fire Burnin’ | Time for Me to Fly | Back on the Road Again | Roll With the Changes
Keep on Loving You | Ridin' the Storm Out | 157 Riverside Avenue
The music REO Speedwagon has created over the past 40, or so, years has proven to be timeless. Considering that the band has had eras where they were hard rockers, who wrote epic tunes, a rock band cranking out three-chord AM radio hits and pop stars creating syrupy ballads, this is quite an amazing feat. No matter what kind of music they have experimented with, one thing has always been true, REO Speedwagon plays from the heart.
At first, it was a hardcore Midwest following, including towns like St. Louis and Kansas City that adopted the band as one of their own. It took over ten years for REO to break internationally, but when they did, they never looked back, releasing the iconic album Hi Infidelity.
Led by charismatic frontman Kevin Cronin, REO Speedwagon can deliver a set of hits with the perfect mixture of ease and energy, the result being a comfortable, yet exciting evening of rock and roll delivered by five dudes who come off as much like everyday guys as they do rock stars.
This night, just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma was a rare gig where REO was the only band on the bill. With no opening acts to contend with, they were able to stretch their set and include a few more songs from each era of the band. They took the stage to “Don’t Let Him Go” from Hi Infidelity before going way back in time to 1972’s R.E.O. II and blasting out the raucous “Music Man.”
The crowd sang along with the huge hits “Take It on the Run” and “Keep Pushin’.” Cronin, then, addressed the crowd with one of his many stories of the evening. This time he shared his gratitude to be born in the U.S.A. and stated that while we have issues, we are still the best nation on the earth. With that, the band launched into the epic “Golden Country,” which is, in this writer’s opinion, one of the most epic hard rock tunes of the 1970’s.
Keyboardist Neal Doughty added the flavor behind the verses on the organ, while guitarist Dave Amato slammed his guitar with the massive wah-wah soaked opening notes. Drummer Bryan Hitt also bashed away, sending the energy of the tune over the top.
Next, it was time for the Speedwagon to throw a couple of ‘80’s tunes to the audience. Cronin began “That Ain’t Love” all by his lonesome, with only his acoustic guitar. He built the song slowly before the band kicked in. While not a huge favorite of REO old school fans, this version really made an impact. “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” followed, which, predictably, was received well by the crowd.
The band went old school with “Son of a Poor Man,” which dates clear back to 1973 and the Ridin’ the Storm Out album. Cronin made reference to playing this tune when the band played sleazy bars and invited the Hard Rock crowd to imagine that the venue was transforming back into one of the early dives the band had cut their teeth on.
After the boogie rock ended, the band, sans Cronin, left the stage. Kevin talked about the massive success of Hi Infidelity and how the band was rushed to write and record the follow-up, Good Trouble. Cronin said he is often asked by fans why the band does not play any songs from that album and he said that he never really finished the songs. He addressed the crowd and stated, “Finally, I have gone back and finished the first song from Good Trouble and I would like to play it for you now.” With that, he performed a solo, acoustic performance of “Keep the Fire Burin.’”
The original pop version, which was not one of the band’s best moments, suddenly transformed into a heartfelt ballad. This version really should be recorded, as it shows how a song can be rushed and how a band can be pressured to make their next batch of songs try to imitate the past instead of working on the song until it has its own identity. The acoustic “Fire” was one of the highlights of the show.
The band rejoined Cronin who, with a detuned guitar, and using only his thumb to play the opening chords, went into one of REO’s best tunes, “Time for Me to Fly.” The band jumped onboard, kicking the song up a notch as the crowd sang along with every word.
REO Speedwagon is not a one man show. While Kevin Cronin’s name appears in this article quite a bit, he has four damn fine musicians rocking alongside him. Kevin introduced one of them as “REO’s secret weapon.” With that, Bruce Hall went into a bass solo, as guitarist Dave Amato, shortly afterward, ripped into the classic, hard rockin’ opening chords to “Back on the Road Again” from 1979’s Nine Lives.
The main set ended with “Roll with the Changes.” This is another song that will long be remembered after REO hangs it up. The song has it all, great vocals, great lyrics, a driving rhythm, an organ solo that can’t be beat and a rousing lead guitar break.
Bruce Hall’s wife, Kimmy’s home town is Tulsa, so family and friends in the audience cheered loudly when Kimmy and a friend ran onstage and joined Bruce for the background vocals to the song, which ended the main set.
When the band returned to the stage for the encore, it was time for another story from Cronin. This time KC told how last year when the band toured with Ted Nugent and Styx, every night Nuge would introduce one of his songs as the “greatest love song of all time.” Suddenly, guitarist Amato launched into the opening chords of the Nugent classic “Cat Scratch Fever.” Cronin ended up disagreeing with Nugent and instead introduced his greatest love song, “Keep on Loving You.” Following was the classic “Ridin’ the Storm Out” with Doughty’s famous siren wail followed by the song’s huge opening riff.
Most in the audience figured the evening was over at the conclusion of “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” when out of nowhere, Doughty began tinkling the ivories, playing the intro to the song “157 Riverside Avenue.”
This song was made famous on REO’s 1977 classic Live: You Get What You Play For album. While Gary Richrath is long gone from the band, Cronin and Amato do the call and response section of the song, complete with all of the ‘do do doo, doodly do’s’ that Kevin can muster.
On this night, we got a few more do, do’s than normal when Amato broke a string and had to quickly change over to a new guitar! The band rode the tune out and ended with a huge rush of energy as they received a standing ovation from the crowd in The Joint, which by the way, was sold out for tonight’s performance.
REO Speedwagon is one of the most reliable classic rock bands on the road today. They do not go through the motions, they still appear to be enjoying their tunes and they still are getting off on getting off an audience.
REO came up the hard way. It took them over a decade to hit the big time. Now, decades later, they are enjoying the fruits of their success.
Stay up to date with REO’s tour dates by visiting www.speedwagon.com