CD/DVD Review: REO Speedwagon – Live at Moondance Jam

CD/DVD Review: REO Speedwagon – Live at Moondance Jam
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: B

REO Speedwagon - Live at Moondance
Jam 2013
There was no turning back after 1980's Hi Infidelity. Their days of slumming it in small clubs and bars across the nation's Heartland were over. College fraternities would have to find somebody else to play their beer busts.

Once the little hard-rock engine that could, churning out minor hits and mapping out grueling tour schedules in a quest for stardom, veteran melodic rock dream weavers REO Speedwagon became an '80s arena-rock superpower on the strength of a No. 1 album and a soaring power ballad in "Keep On Loving You" that made audiences swoon.

Having gone pop, REO Speedwagon had shifted the emphasis from bighearted, emotionally charged guitar anthems – so electrifying in whatever live setting they found themselves in – to lush, piano-based soft rock, and the move paid off handsomely. There would be conflicts over creative control, as underrated guitarist Gary Richrath, such a key songwriting cog in this Midwestern AOR machine, clashed with Kevin Cronin in a power struggle that left him on the outside looking in. And that rich vein of musical gold that REO had mined so extensively would eventually dry up, as the hits stopped coming. Still, they would always have Hi Infidelity.

On a summer's night in 2010, still missing Richrath, Cronin and REO rolled into Walker, Minnesota, site of the classic-rock festival Moondance Jam, on a high, still celebrating the 30th anniversary of the album that changed their lives. Cronin, his voice still as luminous as ever, talked of how those songs on that record had become intertwined with the lives of REO fans, and it's clear that Cronin is still awed by that, which is charming in and of itself.

REO does its best on "Live at Moondance Jam" to pay something back, even if the band – now featuring original member Neil Doughty on keyboards, Bruce Hall on bass, Dave Amato on lead guitar and Bryan Hitt on drums – treats some of their classics with kid gloves.

Documented with high-definition cameras, the concert, now out on CD and DVD or Blu-ray via Frontiers Records, comes alive with a colorful vibrancy and sharpness that does their beguiling, if somewhat tame, performance justice, with a combination of close-ups and wide-angle looks that not only capture the easy-going vibe of the place, but also hone in on the understated musicianship at work in REO. Cronin looks as if he's completely comfortable in his own skin, smiling and enthusiastic about rummaging through the band's assorted hits and back catalog, even going so far as to revive the lost boogie-rock favorite "157 Riverside Avenue" in a particularly sweaty workout to close the show.

As ever, REO executes its windswept vocal harmonies with an easy grace that's hard to come in rock 'n' roll, as Cronin's feathery acoustic guitar strum and light touches of piano, rhythmic elements and electric guitar add a glow to "Don't Let Him Go," the aforementioned "Keep on Loving You," "Take it on the Run" and "In Your Letter" – this being the first-ever live version of this bouncy little gem that's reminiscent of the Beach Boys.

In choosing to begin with a lazy, albeit soothing, whimper, as opposed to a raucous bang, REO runs the risk of anesthetizing the crowd, but instead, there's a kind of melodic magic to these performances that mesmerizes, and the dewey Northwoods atmosphere of Moondance Jam contributes to a sense of communal euphoria. Still, by the time the banal sentimentality and slowly poured syrup of "Can't Fight This Feeling" comes along, it's well past time for REO to change course.

Thankfully they do, kicking up more than a little dust with a defiant "Time For Me To Fly," before launching into fiery sermons on the life-affirming energy of "Roll with the Changes" and "Ridin' The Storm Out." That tug of war that's always existed within REO between indulging their soft side and wanting to rock with wild abandon is still there, but being older and wiser, they've tried striking a balance between the two inclinations, as is the case on "Live at Moondance Jam." This isn't Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire. This isn't The Who smashing their instruments to pieces. It won't make the hair on anybody's neck stand up. It's more like a night of nostalgia at the local band shell, grooving to songs from bygone days that everyone knows by heart. And there's nothing wrong with that.
– Peter Lindblad


  1. hey nice post mehn. I like your style of writing. The way you writes reminds me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog titled How To Make The World A Better Place And Live A Good Life .
    keep up the good work.


  2. Thank you, Daniel. I appreciate that.