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R.E.O. Speedwagon Rolls Along

Eric Prister | Monday, November 2, 2009

Despite the facts that they have been playing together since 1967, that they were nearly overshadowed by the opening band and that their lead singer doesn’t quite have the voice that he used to, one thing was clear from the opening song — R.E.O. Speedwagon, after all this time, can still rock.

With his patented platinum blond hair and a white suit that could rival Elivs, Kevin Cronin, the long-time lead singer of R.E.O. Speedwagon, came onstage to a roar from the mostly 40-something crowd and moved right into R.E.O.’s most popular hits. Cronin struggled somewhat, especially in the beginning, to hit the notes that he used to, which became obvious as he changed some of them to better fit his voice. Particularly during their second song, “Take It On the Run,” it was clear that Cronin didn’t have the range that he used to, but it didn’t take away too much from the performance on the whole.

The other members of the band had clearly lost nothing of their past ability, though some were not original members of the band. The bassist, Bruce Hall, has been with the band since 1977, but he still looks as though he is part of the rock scene. Neil Daughty, whose keyboard playing is one of the things that separates R.E.O. from the average rock band, was an original band member, and he is still playing keyboard for the five-man band. Guitarist Dave Amato and drummer Bryan Hitt are newer members of the band, having joined the group in the early 90s, but both perform up to R.E.O.’s high standards.

As the concert progressed, the band steadily improved, especially Cronin. His voice started to show signs of its original form, especially when the band performed ballads which didn’t require him to sing over the electric guitar. Their performance of “Keep On Loving You” was a particularly well-done rendition of one of their two number one hits. But Cronin seemed to have saved his voice for their penultimate song, “Roll With the Changes,” which he belted out to near perfection.

Only twice did Cronin express his political views on stage, as members of the music industry are wont to do, and he did so tastefully (or as tastefully as one can). He did not mention anyone specifically, and he expressed his desire for a change that he thinks is coming in this country. One of these statements occurred during the performance of “Golden Country,” a song written during the Vietnam War, and the other occurred just before the encore performance of “Riding the Storm Out,” which brought down the house.

The opening act of the night was another famous rock band from the 70s, the British rock group Foghat. It seemed that some members of the audience actually had come to see Foghat rather than R.E.O., and the band did not disappoint. Saving their three most famous songs for last, Foghat performed “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “Fool for the City” and finally “Slow Ride” to perfection. Though he is not the original singer, lead vocalist Charlie Huhn performed the songs almost exactly as they originally sounded. Guitarist Brian Bassett, originally from Molly Hatchet, and original Foghat drummer Roger Earl kept the band running smoothly.

Both bands performed excellently considering their ages and the wear that the rock and roll lifestyle must have put on their bodies. And despite the average age of the crowd, R.E.O. Speedwagon delivered a performance that, because of the familiarity of the songs and the pure enjoyment they expressed on stage, could be enjoyed by rock lovers of all ages.