REO Speedwagon Fly At The Paramount Huntington, NY 10-16-15

REO Speedwagon Fly At The Paramount Huntington, NY 10-16-15

Releasing their first full length in 1971, American rock band REO Speedwagon have fifteen LPs under their belt. In the early years, the band featured a radio friendly rock sound that would allow them to sell out stadiums and arenas around the world. Lead singer Kevin Cronin replaced Terry Luttrell on the band’s sophomore effort, 1972’s REO/TWO. The band’s breakout was 1980’s Hi Infidelity which would sell over ten million copies and yield six billboard charting singles. It was also the top selling album of 1981. Now, over four decades later, Cronin and keyboardist Neal Doughty are the band’s lone original members, but they sustain a lineup of long-time friends with Bruce Hall (bass), Dave Amato (guitar), and Bryan Hitt (drums). Last releasing a studio album of original songs back in 2007 with Find Your Own Way Home, REO Speedwagon has kept themselves extremely busy in recent years. Putting out a Christmas record in 2009 entitled Not So Silent Night … Christmas with REO Speedwagon, the band has spent recent years touring with the likes of Chicago, Foreigner, among others. Now in 2015 they are partaking in a list of special headlining shows and on Friday October 16th came to play The Paramount in Huntington, New York with support from local singer/songwriter Brian Ripps. Packing the venue out, fans of all ages would agree what better way to kick off the weekend then with some Classic Rock.

Up first was Long Islander Ripp. Now based in New York City, Ripp’s set featured heartfelt acoustic numbers in the style of the best of late ’60s / early ’70s acts like Paul Simon and Cat Stevens. “Come In From the Cold” moved along serenely with a gentle melody and featured an intriguing lean towards doo-wop. “Verge of Breaking” was an upbeat number with an excellent blend of hard acoustic strumming and a powerful vocal. In a nod to his influences, Ripps laid down a haunting take on Sting’s “Fields of Gold”. While the original has a hopeful feel, Ripps turned it on its ear, portraying a sense of ambient, dark dread. Ripps proved that an artist is most enjoyable when their influences are clear, but they are able to stamp the sound with their own unique abilities.

At the peak of anticipation, the crowd anxiously awaited to see REO Speedwagon’s first return to the Long Island area since playing Jones Beach in August of 2014 with Chicago. Having everyone cheering from the moment they took the stage, their opening salvo was “Don’t Let Him Go” from the smash album Hi Infidelity. With a Bo Diddley beat and an infectious melody, the song stirred the crowd right from the start. High energy would be the theme of the night from this band who has been on the road for over forty years. A dizzying prog-rock solo on keys from Doughty elevated the song beyond its pop sentiments. “Music Man” followed the opener. From 1972’s REO/TWO, the track was a jangly Rock-n-Roll number with a honky-tonk lead on piano and loads of Hard Rock guitar. A sped up break featured blistering solos from Amato and frenetic work on piano from Doughty. The track encapsulated the sound of early ’70s Hard Rock and got the crowd moving.

Smash hit “Take It on the Run,” also from Hi Infidelity demonstrated why the album was such a monster. A power ballad of the highest order, Cronin sang a solemn tale of adultery. All the hallmarks of a radio hit were featured; strumming acoustic guitar, electric guitar flourishes, top shelf harmonies, and pounding piano. Moving along, “Keep Pushin’” was a great display of the band’s roots as a straight up rock and roll band. Fast-paced, gnashing guitars, and pounding drums were at the fore for a straight up raver. Then there was an interesting change of pace for the band with “In Your Letter.” With a bouncy lead on piano, and a funky garage-rock organ solo it sounded like it came straight out of 1966. Besides the dizzying pop sounds, the song was also heavy on harmonies reminiscent of the great girl groups of the ’60s.

Still early in the set, band had seemingly boundless energy as they went into epic ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” Having the crowd singing along from start to finish, one of the biggest hits of the ’80s remains a song that no matter what kind of music one leans to, they know every word, and this was evident by the crowd’s enthusiastic bellowing of every word. Following with 1987’s “That Ain’t Love,” they quickly went into  Pop-rock masterpiece “Tough Guys” with its strong lead on electric guitar and borderline impatient vocals was a great take on ’80s radio Rock. A hard-driving melody coupled with strong harmonies made for a fist pumping number. Showing off their versatility, “Back on the Road Again” was dripping with classic prog-rock sentiment, and even hinted at heavy metal with fuzzed-out guitars and scathing solos. Clocking in at almost seven minutes, the band stretched out with mind bending instrumental work.

Keeping the hits coming, they went onto “Time For Me to Fly” from 1978’s cleverly named You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish with more bouncy piano and escalating melody again drew an energetic sing along from the crowd. An airy solo from Amato broke the song up temporarily before getting right back into the feel good chorus, ending with masterful harmonies. Another huge hit, “Roll With the Changes” closed the set with a punchy bassline and swirling guitars opening the tune. The song then quickly took off, guided by a strong lead on piano and frenzied guitars. Throughout the song, Amato played languid guitar lines over the melody throughout the song as well as a spirited solo in the middle section. This proved to be a great choice to close the set as all of the band’s strong points were accented to the appreciative crowd.

After a brief exit, the band returned for a two song encore beginning with the power ballad “Keep on Loving You.” Another gigantic hit from Hi Infidelity saw the crowd, in a sign of modern times, raise their phones rather than their lighters. A song about a tested, yet true love, Cronin crooned his way through, leaving no doubt as to why REO Speedwagon are at the top of the heap when it comes to catchy pop numbers. Amato punctuated the song with a solo steeped in a harrowing tone. To close the show, the band chose one of their hardest rocking songs, “Ridin’ the Storm Out.” With its blaring siren to open, along with steady tapping on the hi-hat from Hitt, and charging power chords on guitar, the song made the already satisfied crowd teem with energy. Propulsive guitars throughout and an indelible chorus proved to be an unstoppable combination. It included a wild solo that would not seem out of place on a Hard Rock or Heavy Metal album proving again that REO Speedwagon is much more than a pop-rock, balladeering outfit. The song, and show would end with a equally wild outro on guitar, punctuating a night of high energy Rock -n-Roll sprinkled with classic ballads and chart topping Pop-Rock.

Being in the game for over forty years, REO Speedwagon knows what a crowd wants in a live show, and on this night they delivered in spades. As a band that can clearly do it all, playing various styles with expert precision, their live show is not to be missed. Their current tour continues throughout North America, ending on New Year’s Eve in Welch, Minnesota. After a break, the band will be back at it in 2016 as well. With that said, anyone looking for a show where they will know just about every word, and be blown away by the songs that they do not, be sure to catch REO Speedwagon when they come around.

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Gerard Smith
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