REO Speedwagon at Reliant Stadium, 3/11/2014
Photos by Jim Bricker
REO Speedwagon Reliant Stadium March 11, 2014
"We all get a little bit crazy now, don't we, my friends."
Why, yes we do. Every once in a blue moon, a show really surprises us. Whether it's the energy, the volume of the crowd's approval, or simply the sheer musicianship, it'll straight-up remind us of why we like our jobs so much. Monday, REO Speedwagon's set at RodeoHouston nailed all three of those categories.
From the moment those Illinois-bred rockers stepped onstage, it was evident that the 40-plus years they've spent busting out those (now) classic-rock hits have taught them a thing or two about showmanship. From the gospel-like sermons that led into each song to the band's clear, concise musicianship, the REO guys are the coolest grandpas ever
As soon as they played the opening notes of "Don't Let Him Go," it was apparent that they were fighting for their rightful place among the young'uns on this year's RodeoHouston card, and they came out swinging. Impressive for a group of guys who have been playing some of these same songs since the '70s.
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We really didn't expect much more than their notable '80s hits, because let's be honest here -- most classic-rock bands that are still out there playing are merely there for nostalgia purposes, at best -- but REO's showmanship is cut from a quality cloth, one from which they still make an effort to entertain to the hilt.
You'd think one would grow weary of playing "Take It On the Run" after this many years, but even if they're over that song, you'd never be able to tell. They threw in that song, as well as some of their other big hits -- "Keep On Loving You" and "Time For Me to Fly" both made appearances -- but what was most surprising was how they knocked us on our asses.
Onstage, front man Kevin Cronin, who must be pushing retirement age, is something of a classic-rock messiah, giving drawn-out sermons on the history of REO's songs, and urging the crowd to let politics pull us together rather than divide us. He uses the phrase "my friends" so often that he even still sounds like he's straight out of the '70s; the only clue otherwise is an aging face and a cloud of white hair.
Cronin sure could sure show some of the younger, more egotistical rockers a thing or two. Hhis vocals are pretty impeccable, even after 40 years of concert abuse, but what really sets him apart from the competition is his genuine love for the stage. He hasn't grown weary of playing those old hits, and his sermons leading into them are full of spunk and self-awareness. It's awesome to take in.
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In all honesty, there really isn't much else to write about the show. At one point, amid a serious shirtless drum solo, and with Cronin preaching in the background, it almost felt like entering a time warp. The crowd's energy as they sang and screamed only added to the effect. We'd expected much less energy and enthusiasm, and luckily were totally wrong on that end.
It's just unfortunate that many of you missed out; REO pulled in the lowest numbers of the 2014 rodeo season to date, clocking in 54,039 people in paid attendance. But those numbers were made up for in spades by the crowd's enthusiasm, and the band's admiration in return.
So the next time someone suggests you go take in that classic-rock act at the rodeo, perhaps you should take them up on it. Those were some impressive gentleman onstage Monday, and if you weren't there, you definitely should have been.
Personal Bias: The Old Man of Rocks Off and I may have been messaging REO Speedwagon lyrics back and forth all Monday, because we know what's up. REO is awesome shit.
The Crowd: It's strange; the rodeo definitely pulls in a definitive crowd, with folks all covered in turquoise and bling, no matter what the show is. Expected more classic-rock shirts, and was glad I decided to change out of my Beatles shirt for something much more conservative. It was that crowd.
Overheard in the Crowd: "This guy has to still smoke weed. These are the coolest pawpaws ever."
Random Notebook Dump: Man, someone dropped the ball in the grandparents department. Why wasn't my grandpa well-equipped to play a mean double bass? He just sat on his riding mower all day, ignoring my grandma. Still cool, but not nearly as cool as a shirtless drummer or something.
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