Live: Chicago/REO Speedwagon

CHICAGO-REO-4983CYNTHIA WOODS MITCHELL PAVILION — 8/29/14: Once upon a time, I was not a jaded 44-year-old hipster doofus. I was a 12-year-old kid who loved The Beatles, a band which belonged to the generation before me, and the progressive supergroup Asia, who I thought completely belonged to me, even though they were all members from ’60s and ’70s bands like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer. Along with this, like a lot of ’80s kids I listened to KRBE and watched a ton of MTV.

The past summer has brought several of those ’80s acts, acts that were popular before I started rejecting them for being “cheesy,” through Houston to the Woodlands Pavilion. What’s surprised me is how much I enjoyed and was awed by these older musicians who keep rocking through time, from one generation to the next.

REO Speedwagon and Chicago were no exception. In fact, they could be the “poster boys” for rocking well into their retirement years. Both bands started in the late ’60s and have had many members over the years, but both also have core members that have been playing together from the vinyl days through the cassette days to the CD and iPod days, and now back to the vinyl days.

First to take the stage was REO Speedwagon. Most people, including me, naturally think of Kevin Cronin when they think of REO. But he wasn’t an original member. The original member still playing in REO is the 68-year-old keyboard player Neal Doughty. Doughty mostly hangs out playing near the back of the stage with a beret on. So it’s natural that we all think of Cronin as the main man, and what an energy Cronin has!

CHICAGO-REO-5122From “Take It on the Run” to “Can’t Fight This Feeling” to their newest number and set highlight, “Whipping Boy,” Cronin hit all the notes and kept the crowd’s attention for an hour of hits and hardcore fan favorites. The rest of the band has been in REO since at least 1989, but bassist Bruce Hall has also been rocking in REO since the late ’70s, so it was fun to see him take the lead on the song “Back on the Road Again,” which featured a nice long classic rock jam.

Somewhere along the way, Cronin told the crowd we were in for something really special. “Don’t try to leave and beat the traffic tonight!,” he exclaimed between songs. “We’ll be back for an encore!,” he sang as they left the stage. And seeing that they hadn’t played some of their biggest hits yet, the crowd knew they would be in for something special after Chicago’s set.

I may have mentioned before in my blogs that I have been obsessed with vinyl and my stereo system over the last two years. Along with this obsession has come a resurgence in my love of “Classic Rock”. Classic rock is a vague term, but it includes most everything that might get played on 107.5 The Eagle. Of course, FM radio doesn’t do this music justice and neither, frankly, does the compact disc — and don’t get me started on MP3s.

CHICAGO-REO-5167You really need to hear it on vinyl and you need to spend some money and time to get a nice system. Anyone who has $1000 for a television should be able to spend the same amount on a nice vinyl setup. Anyway, end of rant…

Chicago are one of those classic rock bands that I’ve come to appreciate much more as I found vinyl again. It was amazing to finally see them live. Wikipedia says they’re the second most successful American band next to The Beach Boys. Reading that, I started to think about all the other American bands that might want to lay claim to that title: The Eagles, Crosby Stills and Nash (hybrid American/Brit), Aerosmith, KISS, Bruce Springsteen (does he count as a “band”?), and wow, Chicago are almost underrated when I started to think about it.

Chicago started their set with an impressive run of songs. As I was taking photos, I was trying to take it all in. The photo session seemed to last forever. I think the guy who works for Live Nation and counts the songs (we only get three) let us get away with five songs, because of the way the songs flowed together.

The suite “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon,” which starts with “Make Me Smile,” started the concert, and it’s one of my favorites, but “Beginnings,” later in the set, may have topped it. Certainly, the highlight of the show for me was singer/keyboardist Robert Lamm. He is ageless. It feels like the whole band is ageless. The percussion jam featuring Walfredo Reyes and Tris Imboden showed everyone that there are no age limits when it comes to rocking.

Between the awesome classic songs and percussion jam, we were also treated to a hefty dose of cheesy slow-dance ’80s hits like “You’re the Inspiration” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” featuring Peter Cetera‘s long-ago replacement Jason Scheff (Scheff joined Chicago at age 23 and is now 52), but in the context of the concert they were entertaining.

CHICAGO-REO-5353After “Saturday in the Park” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” Chicago took a short break while a team of roadies brought REO Speedwagon’s gear back onto the stage. It was time for the “SUPERBAND” portion of the evening. I called this incarnation “REO Chicago Transit Speedwagon Authority.”

My first thought was, “How many microphones are up on that stage?!” Out of the 14 assembled musicians, we received amazing renditions of some of both bands biggest hits. “Ridin’ The Storm Out,” “Free,” “Keep on Loving You,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “Roll With the Changes,” and “25 or 6 to 4” ended the night in spectacular fashion. END

(Photos [top to bottom]: Kevin Cronin (REO Speedwagon); Bruce Hall, Dave Amato, & Kevin Cronin (REO Speedwagon); Jason Scheff (Chicago); James Pankow (Chicago). All photos by Jason Smith.)


Live review by . Live review posted Thursday, February 12th, 2015. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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