REO Speedwagon have always been one of those bands that I liked but didn’t love. All the biggest most famous hits pretty much occurred in the 80’s during my childhood, and with the dawn of MTV they were certainly everywhere. Especially when you factor in that the group’s landmark LP Hi Infidelity, released at the tail end of 1980 really peaked the following year, selling in excess of ten million copies and serving as the soundtrack to many people’s lives back then. Still, I never asked for any of their records for Christmas or made it my business to acquire them once I started buying albums with my own money. It wasn’t until I got much older that I could really appreciate some of those classic songs.
But I was curious about this new live recording Live At Moondance Jam because A) I love live albums, and B) I saw that it was 30 years after the release of Hi Infidelity and they were opening with four of the five songs from side one! “Don’t Let Him Go”, the iconic “Keep On Loving You”, the rockabilly feel of “In Your Letter”, and “Take It On the Run” are a great way to get a crowd of 30,000 people dancing and singing, no? But the band reaches back even further with songs like “Keep Pushin’” from ’76, and the politically-charged “Golden Country” from 1972’s R.E.O./T.W.O., a six-minute (in this case eight) slice of progressive rock that might make the uninitiated’s jaw drop.
“Can’t Fight This Feeling” brings things back to the more pop-infused radio-friendly era of REO Speedwagon, and I have to say Kevin Cronin’s voice has aged very well. I think I actually like this version even better than the studio one. Another stop in older territory comes in the form of “Like You Do” which has grown into one of my favorites from the back catalogue. In this live setting it evolves into a blistering jam and sounds like there’s a lot of fun being had on that stage. This line-up of the band has been together for 24 years and drummer Bryan Hitt really anchors the groove and feel of this one. You can just tell the familiarity they all have with one another.
Another highlight includes a rockin’ version of “Roll With the Changes” from arguably one of the greatest albums title-wise ever: You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish. I found that one at a garage sale some years ago and I still have it. This is another song that I like better live because it’s a little more gritty, Cronin’s voice having just a touch of gravel to it, and it’s super-high energy. Neal Doughty absolutely goes OFF on his Hammond B3 organ, too. The set closes with “Ridin’ the Storm Out” from the album of the same name and setlist mainstay “157 Riverside Avenue” stretched to nearly six minutes to include a bass solo to go with the killer guitar and piano ones.
I really did NOT expect to dig this record as much as I did, but ever since I got it from my friend Dustin at Frontiers Records I’ve been groovin’ to it quite a bit. The song selection is like the perfect REO Speedwagon time capsule and the guys are just ON FIRE through each and every number. If there was ever an album that was made for driving, then this is it. Highly recommend!
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Roll With the Changes”, “Like You Do”, “Can’t Fight This Feeling”, “Don’t Let Him Go”, “In Your Letter”