REO Speedwagon/Styx: Live Last Night

Live Last Night

Hey, the late-'70s just phoned! They said they want somebody to show some respect for the era's rock-and-roll!

The folks who packed Merriweather Post Pavillion last night to see REO Speedwagon and Styx would take that call. Proving yet again that nostalgia is an all-powerful force in the rock realm, both Illinois-spawned arena bands did their heyday right.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

REO has for years been basically just frontman Kevin Cronin and whomever he can get to hit the road with him. At Merriweather, REO showed some evidence of its roots as a guitar-based bar-rock band (highlighted by 1973's "Riding the Storm Out"), but the later power ballads carried the group's closing set.

A screen above the stage showed footage from the appearance at Live Aid, and Cronin made occasional references to his band as having once been a socially conscious force. But the song REO featured at history's biggest concert back in 1985 was "I Can't Fight This Feeling," a tune with a chorus just as dumb as dirt: "And I can't fight this feeling anymore/I've forgotten what I started fighting for/It's time to bring this ship into the shore/And throw away the oars forever."

Then again, as Cronin's warbling reminded, picking out the most mindless words from REO's songbook is like naming your favorite Dylan couplet. There's just so much to choose from!

Like this, from "Time for Me to Fly": "I've had enough of the falseness of a worn out relation/Enough of the jealousy and the intoleration." And "Keep On Loving You," on which Cronin crooned about a lover who "played dead ... all coiled up and hissin'." Sure, "intoleration" ain't really a word, and dead things don't really hiss. But the guy needed rhymes!

And, truth be told, "I Can't Fight This Feeling," "Time for Me to Fly" and "Keep on Loving You" share something beyond mere dumbness. All these tunes have fabulous melodies. So despite the sorry words, they owned the pop airwaves for a time. And they all still mean something to folks who came of age at that very time.

So REO's soft stuff filled Merriweather with joy.

During "I Can't Fight This Feeling," one rising middle-ager near the stage stood amid a sea of waving cellphones and paid an analog tribute to the good ol' days with a raised lighter. As some smart dude once said, ignorance can be bliss.

Styx, which still tours with heyday guitarists/vocalists Tommy Shaw and James Young and bassist Chuck Panozzo, was among the more ambitious pop bands of its era. The Chicago-based combo's output borrowed from domestic soft-rock bands and English art rockers. Shaw's "Crystal Ball" had America's harmonies and Emerson, Lake and Palmer's spacey synths, over good ol' American power chords.

"Killing Yourself" "Fooling Yourself" and "Renegade" were poor man's Queen, the latter's theme and arrangement a straight filch from "Bohemian Rhapsody." Stolen or not, the kids who memorized every Styx time change and chorus in their bedrooms three decades ago have grown into folks who'll regurgitate it all in amphitheaters, smiling like life's been good.

At night's end, members of Styx joined REO Speedwagon to send everybody home with a new song that Cronin and Shaw wrote called "We Can't Stop Rockin'." We know, guys. We know!

-- DAVE MCKENNA

By J. Freedom du Lac |  June 24, 2009; 3:10 PM ET Live Last Night
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Sounds about right. 2 things....

1.REO lineup has been stable since at least 2003. Other than maybe the keyboardist it was all the same people as when they played the VCenter back then.

2. Chuck only plays some of the Styx songs and shows. Ricky Philips is the primary bassist for the band..

Very fun show. Glad to see the "old guys" still got it, though I wish Styx would explore deeper into their catalog. They do have an impressive resume, even if most of it is wrapped up with Denis DeYoung.

Posted by: EricS2 | June 25, 2009 12:05 AM

The REO lineup has been exactly the same for nearly 20 years and the keyboard player is a founding member.

Posted by: B3Bob | June 29, 2009 2:00 AM

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