This past weekend I got to see one of my favorite live bands of all time, REO Speedwagon. They played at the Peppermill Concert Hall in Wendover, Nevada on April 9, 2011. It was a sold out show and for good reason. REO Speedwagonis still a very popular rock band with40 years worthof touring behind them and a whole string of hit albums with smash singles keeping their popularity fueled. It’s also the 30th anniversary of their record breaking Hi Infidelity album.
The current roster of band member are as follows:
- Kevin Cronin – Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
- Bruce Hall - Bass Guitar, Vocals
- Neal Doughty – Keyboards
- Dave Amato – Lead Guitar, Vocals
- Bryan Hitt – Drums, Percussion
Dave Amato has been with REO Speedwagon since 1989 and Bryan Hitt has been in the band since 1990. So REO Speedwagon has been together in this form for a lot of years even though this isn’t the exact same band that recorded Hi Infidelity. The most notable departures from the Hi Infidelity years are guitarist Gary Richrath and drummer Alan Gratzer.
Let me tell you, this current lineup of REO Speedwagon sounds fantastic! Their sound at the Peppermill Concert Hall was rich and full. Dave Amato easily plays all of Gary Richrath’s classic guitar parts and steps up the level of guitar playing when injecting his own style and sound into the REO Speedwagon formula. Amato is a better guitarist than Gary Richrath although he hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success when it comes to writing and playing on REO Speedwagon hits that Gary had. Still, it was a pleasure to listen to Dave play the guitar at this concert. He’s got the chops and the sound that makes REO Speedwagon’s guitars come to life.
Bryan Hitt is a solid drummer who also raises the level of drumming beyond Alan Gratzer. We luckily didn’t have to suffer through a drum solo and Bryan Hitt’s drumming propelled the group perfectly throughout the night. He is a much heavier drummer than Alan was and his style gives REO an updated feel to the drumming.
Kevin, Bruce and Neal have been present for all the huge REO Speedwagon hits. They played and helped write the music for REO Speedwagon’s biggest albums. It was so nice to see these three guys still out onstage rocking out and playing extremely well. They look good too, I would never guess they are hovering around 60 years old. Whoever they’re using as a trainer it’s paying off, especially for Kevin. The guy is lean and looks in fabulous shape. The whole band looks really well actually.
Bruce Hall’s bass playing is just rock solid and hearing him sing lead is always a nice addition to Kevin’s lead vocals. I love it when a band has multiple people who can sing lead. I don’t care how good a singer is, it gets old listening to the same person singing every song for a 2-hour show.
Neal Doughty’s keyboard playing is truly excellent. He still has all his chops and then some. Neal is a lot like Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Neal and Benmont both have a feel for playing the perfect part at the perfect time. Neal Doughty is one of the few organ players that understand how to use the modulation effect properly. Neal is the only original band member in REO Speedwagon and I feel like it’s really his band after all.
Kevin Cronin’s singing has lost a note or two in the high range but his skill as a singer has improved. His skill as a singer has given him the ability to tweak the melodies at the highest notes and still keep the songs vibrant. Bruce Hall and Dave Amato both sing a lot of vocals with REO Speedwagon and they do it very well. The three singers cover all the harmonies. If there is a slight weakness in REO Speedwagon it’s simply in the ability to sing perfectly in tune every time and their age is showing in their voices.
There are 1000 seats at the Peppermill Concert Hall in Wendover, Nevada and that means that no matter where you sit, you get an excellent view of the band. The sound is always nice and controlled in this hall. REO Speedwagon sounded fantastic. The mix was perfect and you could hear every instrument and vocal part. REO Speedwagon’s musical skills after all these years of touring and recording are simply epic. These guys know how to play their instruments and they know how to play together. They are as rock solid and tight a band as you will ever hear. The great thing about musician’s is that their playing usually improves as the years go on. Now is a fantastic time to hear REO Speedwagon simply because their skill is so well defined.
REO Speedwagon have 16 original albums to draw material from spanning 40 years. They have had so many hits that they can play an entire 2-hour show with the audience being able to sing along with every song. That’s what they did in Wendover. They played extensively from the Hi Infidelity album but they also pulled out hits from as far back as their second album. The played the song “Golden Country” from their 1971 album titled “T.W.O.”. They played all the mega-ballads including “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Keep On Loving You”. They played the rockers like “Don’t Let Him Go” and “Roll With The Changes”. They even played some bar-room jams such as “157 Riverside Avenue”.
The band played like the veterans that they are. They played like the still cared about the music and cared about being onstage. The perfomerswere animated with a lot of onstage movement including Kevingcoming down into the crowd a few times. Kevin made some good speeches about how Rock-N-Roll can still bring a group of like-minded people together for a night of good music and fun. That was really the bottom line for this show. It was truly good music and fun time for everyone that was in attendance. The crowd was a nice mix of older folks and younger. I literally saw some grannies and some hot 20-something’s rocking out side-by-side. Not very many bands can claim an audience with that wide of an age range.