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Music DVD Review: REO Speedwagon – Live In The Heartland

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It's now over 40 years since REO Speedwagon formed at the University of Illinois in Champaign and keyboard player Neal Doughty is the only remaining original member in 2008.  When guitarist Gary Richrath arrived in the fold, bringing the band's first original material, they went from bar band to headliners, releasing their debut album in 1971.  Mainstream success eluded them outside their homebase, and it wasn't until vocalist Kevin Cronin joined the band for the second time that they started to build towards multi-platinum success.

Their first live album, Live: You Get What You Play For was also their first platinum album, and it became the launchpad for their progress to Hi-Infidelity, their 1980 mega seller, which is closing in fast on 10 million sales to date.  The band then began a steady decline, but the revival of arena rock in the 21st century has seen REO Speedwagon back selling out concert tours, even releasing their first album in 11 years, in 2007.

And now they're getting the Soundstage treatment.  For those who don't know, the PBS series Soundstage predated music television as we know it in its original run from 1974-1985. Then in 2003, the series returned in brand, spanking new high definition format.  Coming out of Chicago, it's a hometown gig for vocalist Cronin, as the new REO blast their way through a selection of sparkling hits, and a couple from the recent Find Your Own Way Home album.  They actually kick off the show with the title track of the new album, a brave move which doesn't really pay off, but then they pull one of the biggies out. They hit the crowd with '"Take It On The Run", and the night is there's for the taking.

Critical approval was not something that REO Speedwagon was in the habit of getting, but what they could always rely on were fabulous melodies and catchy choruses, a lot of which work better live than in the studio.  Cronin belies his 57 years, working the stage and the crowd non-stop, covering every inch, regardless of his somewhat unseemly leather pants.  Gary Richrath may be long gone but ex Ted Nugent guitarist Dave Amato is a classy lead player, who also chips in on the excellent harmony vocals.  I doubt his erstwhile boss would approve of his current gig, but Amato seems to be having a great time.

They're more than happy to embrace their past, going all the way back to their 1971 debut for the closing "157 Riverside Avenue", and are also happy to visit other non-Cronin albums for ""Golden Country" and "Ridin' the Storm Out" welcome reminders of when REO really knew how to rock.  Bass player Bruce Hall gets a vocal turn on his own "Back On The Road Again", but it's the crowd pleasing hits that work up the crowd with the 1-2-3 knockout punches of "Don't Let Him Go", "Keep On Loving You" and "Roll With The Changes" ending the main set.

As with all the Soundstage shows, it's filmed well and has a great sound.  The band seem well up for the theatre sized crowd and there a couple of bonus features featuring a couple of acoustic tracks – "I Needed To Fall" and "Ridin' The Storm Out" – along with a interview segment featuring keyboard player Neil Doughty and vocalist Kevin Cronin, which is interesting for Cronin seemingly oblivious to him not actually having been a founder member!  However, it's an excellent reminder of a great band, and one that fans should snap up.

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About Stuart A Hamilton