REO Speedwagon Still Fighting this Feeling after 50 Years

REO Speedwagon performing at Starlight Theater in Kansas City. Photo by Josh Chaikin

Though it was raining hours before showtime, spirits would not be dampened as an eager throng of fans waited (mostly in their cars) to enter Missouri’s latest historically designated theater in Kansas City, Starlight Theater. With over 50 years since the release of their debut album, REO Speedwagon returned to Kansas City for another unforgettable night of music. Though from Chicago, Kansas City may be a homecoming for the band, who has a rich history with the City, dating back to KY-102, with a large number of historic performances, back at Kemper, The K, and many stops at Starlight, in what seems to be an annual tradition. But the love between KC and the band is mutual, as there were barely any empty seats to be seen.

REO did not come alone though. What’s a party without friends, and they certainly delivered by bringing Night Ranger along with them. I was particularly excited about that, as I have yet to see them live (shameful, I know!). I was also pleasantly surprised to have received a pass to the pre-show meet and greet, though my interaction with the band was limited to “Stand there” before being quickly ushered out after my 5 second photo op. A fun opportunity nonetheless.

Not long after, Night Ranger took the stage, opening their set with “(You Can Still) Rock in America,” the lead single off of their second album. The band made great use of Starlight’s large stage, with most of the members running back and forth, while the American flag projected on their LEDs across the stage. With the size of the crowd, and the enthusiasm, it was hard to tell who was there for which band, though many were there for both. Jack Blades asked the crowd how many had seen them before, and the overwhelming majority had; many, in fact, had seen them back in the early 80s.

Though it was still fairly hot outside, and Starlight has not completed their upgrades to provide more shade, Night Ranger, visibly sweaty, would not slow down, and delivered a powerhouse performance, covering all of their hits, as well as some songs from Damn Yankees. It is a shame that we weren’t able to see guitarist play some of the songs he did with Ozzy, but as the opener, it is understandable.

The night took a somber turn when lead vocalist and bassist, Jack Blades, introduced “Goodbye” a song he wrote after his brother had passed away from a drug overdose. Like on the album, drummer Ken Keagy sang this song, leaving his drum kit in the process.

The night ended, of course, with seminal classic rock radio hits “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” and “Sister Christian.” By this point, everyone had their phones out, using their flashlights to…well…relive the good ol’ days I guess. The sun was still out, but it was still fun.

A common theme from the night was snippets of a radio interview with Kevin Cronin playing in the theater throughout the evening with the band, with Kevin singing over his car phone, from the back of the limo hot tub (80’s baby), “Wherever the needle drops”, with the band hitting the stage with “Don’t Let Him Go” from their 9th studio album, Hi Infidelity. It was a fun gimmick that seemed to be appreciated by the band.

As to be expected, the stage show was nothing short of spectacular. Incredible lighting, perfect sound, and everyone in the band firing on all cylinders. Kevin and the band’s love of performing, Kansas City, and of Starlight were on full display.

As seems to be a recurring theme with the band, starting with the “Tornado Show” in 1978, the rain during their performance on the Midwest Rock and Roll Express tour in 2013, the skies opened and rained down. We were truly Riding the Storm Out with the boys, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

There’s a lot to be said about aging rock stars, or musicians in general. Maybe they can’t hit the notes like they used to, or maybe there isn’t as much power in their voice. Sometimes it’s very clear that a musician is phoning the show in, but one thing that is very clear in this case, Kevin, Bruce Hall, Dave Amato, Neil Doughty, and Bryan Hitt put everything out there, and leave nothing on stage when they leave. When they play “Keep On Loving You,” they may as well be talking about everyone in the audience who came out to see them.

Words and Photos by Josh Chaikin

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