Being a creature of the ‘80s, there are certain bands that always remind me of the good ole’ days, whatever that means. No matter what year or where you are in life, certain bands grab at the cockles of the heart. REO Speedwagon is by far one of the favorites on the totem pole of life for many from the MTV generation.
It was a capacity crowd Friday night at the City National Grove of Anaheim; ready to take in the lords of the wheel and Ozark fame. The calendar said January 14, 2022, but based on the amount of cheers and lighters in the air, you would have sworn it was 1980-something.
REO SPEEDWAGON at
City National Grove of Anaheim
January 14, 2022
Before the Wheel took the stage, Sir Please came out to warm up the crowd. Even though they were opening for a larger than life band, Sir Please held their own. Their sound was eclectic, but they were a good choice to open. With guitar and sax as their featured sound, they did some very cool original songs and a few covers, including “Comfortably Numb,” which impressed the early birds.
Back to the featured act… REO Speedwagon landed in the OC as part of a short west coast swing. From the onset, the band came out energized, and started off with “Music Man” then “Keep Pushin,” to a quasi-acoustic set that was remarkably booming.
Lead singer Kevin Cronin immediately let the cat out of the bag; he told the crowd that lead guitarist Dave Amato had tested positive for COVID, and they had to make a decision. To play, or not to play!
Cronin said, “REO Speedwagon doesn’t cancel shows” and then he introduced the legendary Joe Vannelli on piano. Like a pied piper, Cronin led the crowd and the band to one of their uber-hits, “Don’t Let Him Go,” to the delight of the audience.
I know everyone was expecting that electric REO sound. Without Amato, you can argue that it technically wasn’t. Then again, to hear these classics delivered in this way with the effort the band put into it was special.
Credit the guys on how they engaged with the crowd coupled with their musicianship because despite being acoustic (kinda), the band was electrifying, it was almost a goose-bump moment in time.
Their sonic vision for this show was unveiled as the night went on, and their collective energy and Cronin’s vocals were at the top of his game.
Like Springsteen, Cronin did something that only the greats can do: He told very entertaining and moving stories between sets. The story behind the band and what went into making certain songs. The takeaway was that without Amato, the guys had to rely on their music, their entertainer abilities, and most of all, their engagement with the crowd. For those in the house, it was apparent REO Speedwagon brought their A-game.
Another entertaining moment was when Cronin talked about a few of his pals. He told the story of how he became friends with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony, you know… the Van Halen dudes. The story he told seemed very familiar to me. You see, over the summer we attended Sammy Hagar’s Birthday Bash (also known as The AFTERBURNER Festival) in Huntington Beach. Hagar mentioned how he loves to take a swig, or two or three of his favorite libations before stepping on stage, and he asked the crowd to have a drink with him.
Fast forward back to the REO show, and Cronin mentioned how he does this now, and low and behold, I can attest that Cronin’s “Sammy Juice” story is 100% true!
Like their performance, the stage was also stripped down – not even an REO logo. Drummer Bryan Hitt had a small drum kit, and Cronin mentioned it wasn’t the size of the equipment; it’s how you use it, which drew a laugh out of the crowd. Hitt definitely displayed how he uses his equipment, musically of course. The stage had two pianos that Neal Doughty and Joe Vannelli would trade off throughout the night. Bassist Bruce Hall was unphased by it all and was blasting away all night long. Each song was different in delivery, but uniquely had the REO signature sound.
The guys played a variety of songs from all REO eras. Cronin’s twin sons even joined them on stage to sing “Keep on Loving You.” The crowd was enthralled and animated the entire night. REO played many of their hits such as “Take It on the Run,” “Tough Guys,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Time for Me to Fly,” “Back on the Road Again,” “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” and closed out to “Roll with the Changes.”
In the end, no matter what seat you had that night, you witnessed a very special night of music from a legendary band. It was a great for music at the Citi National Grove of Anaheim.