Niagara Gazette

June 19, 2013

Artpark REO Speedwagon show something special

By Thom Jennings
Night & Day

Night & Day — If Tuesday’s REO concert was the first time you have seen the band live and wondered what all the fuss was about, well now you know. If you missed it, you missed something special.

REO dazzled a capacity crowd at Artpark with a high-energy set filled with all the classics, a few deep cuts for the diehard fans, and garage rock staple that ended the night with an exclamation point.

The show began shortly after 8 p.m. with “Don’t Let Him Go,” the opening cut from their breakthrough album “Hi Infidelity.” Singer Kevin Cronin’s voice has not lost any of its power, and from the outset it’s clear that the band still plays with the same conviction that established them as one of rock music’s greatest live bands.

One of the things that endeared me to REO at an early age was Kevin Cronin’s unique ability to pump up a crowd with his stories. On this night, Cronin had some fun picking on fellow mid-westerner Ted Nugent, who is sometimes tours with REO. Cronin noted that he and Ted “don’t always see eye-to-eye on things” and stated that Nugent introduces “Cat Scratch Fever” as the “greatest love song of all time.” (When Nugent performed on the same stage two years ago that is exactly how he introduced the song). Cronin then launched into what he called “the greatest love ballad of all time” “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”

Cronin was also able to put a positive spin on one of the band’s earlier songs, “Golden Country,” a song written in protest of the Vietnam War. Like everything, the song’s meaning has evolved, and instead of using it as a platform for protest, Cronin used the song’s message as a positive statement that in the U.S and Canada, people have the freedom to speak their minds.

Even though the band did not perform any songs from albums past 1987, they dug out some real gems from their early years including “Like You Do,” “Keep Pushin’” and “Son of a Poor Man.”

The show really took off to a new level when the band broke into “Time for Me to Fly. “ The crowd had been enthusiastic up to that point, but the final part of the set took the band and the crowd to a new level after Kevin Cronin stated “it’s time to break out the classic rock heavy artillery,” before launching into “Back on the Road Again,” featuring bassist Bruce Hall on vocals.

That was followed by a powerful version of “Roll With the Changes,” which closed out the main set.

For their first encore, Cronin sat at the piano and broke into “Keep on Loving You,” and the loudest sing-along I have ever heard at Artpark ensued. The band then launched into a song that has closed their shows for years, “Ridin’ the Storm Out.” It remains one of my favorite live songs of all time, although I confess that I missed the pyrotechnics that they used to have in the old days when they played the song.

Just as keyboardist Neal Doughty walked to the front of the stage ready to take a bow, Cronin looked at him and said, “we aren’t done yet,” and the band broke into Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” The song was played with the vigor of a young garage band and the crowd sang along like they were in a packed bar at closing time.

It was clear REO was in their element, and while I am sure they still perform at the highest level every night, one had the sense that Artpark’s show was as special to them as it was to the crowd. Inasmuch as the packaged tours with bands like Styx and Ted Nugent create value, a band like REO is best seen when they are the evening’s feature attraction.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night & Day.