REO Speedwagon

31 August 2004

Colorado State Fair, Pueblo, CO


Love 'em or hate 'em, the fire-engine-inspired REO Speedwagon has a permanent marker in early 1980's arena hard pop, next to Journey, Loverboy, Foreigner, etc. The current lineup has been touring together tight and strong since 1990, and contains three original members.

This afternoon, I passed by a co-worker that we'll just call "Carey", who, at one time, owned an 8-track of their most popular album.

Later on, another co-worker mentioned, "Let me know if they perform 'Riding The Storm Out'." Well, REO Speedwagon actually opened the show with this tune, containing the locale-friendly lyric, "On a full moon night in the Rocky Mountain Winter." This tune set the sonic standard for the rest of the evening. Very loud, strong guitars, keyboards and vocals. If I had one criticism, it would be that the bass drum was exorbitantly drowning out the bass guitar.

Leading the cheerful barrage of amplification was a trim, animated Kevin Cronin, sporting a short-swimming-pool-bleached moptop, and taking some guitar duties for most of the evening.

After two songs I didn't recognize, REO played their first of many songs with the motivational word "keep" it it, "Keep Pushin' On".

One of the biggest cheers of the evening started with Neal Doughty's catchy opening to their 1985 #1 hit, "Can't Fight This Feeling", a textbook power ballad, highlighted by an earth-shaking transition from acoustic piano to two loud, successive cymbal crashes.

Then came a live performance of one of the best album sides in Rock history, side one of their smash album Hi Infidelity. And, here we are 24 years later, and the song sequence is still stunning: "Don't Let Him Go", "Keep On Lovin' You", "In Your Letter", "Tough Guys", and "Take It On The Run". Performed expertly, this quick trip through 1980 brought a long standing ovation.

Now cliche' for almost every concert (not just Crosby Stills & Nash), an acoustic interlude followed. And, I have to give the band credit--their re-arrangement of "In My Dreams", now far less produced, actually sounded a lot better than their 1987 hit version.

After "I Do' Wanna Know", "Here With Me", and "That Ain't Love", Kevin told a story about how he left his Chicago girlfriend, moved out to Boulder, CO, and wrote, in open tuning, "Time For Me To Fly", which he began this evening by strumming a sprightly 12-string acoustic.

The highlight of the night was Bruce Hall's front-and-center vocals on the rollicking "Back On The Road Again".

"Roll With The Changes (Keep On Rollin')" ended the main set, and a couple songs followed in encore fashion.

Notable absences: "Live Every Moment" (1985) and "Keep The Fire Burnin'" (1982).

REO will always have a place in my memory, especially since the band was constantly bombarding the airways while I was undergoing the biggest mental and physical changes of my life at age 15. Regarded as a passing phase by 1990, this band, I truly think, will have staying power in the grand scheme of Rock and Roll history.

[***1/2] - Steven T.


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