It was a trip back in time for nearly 10,000 music fans packed into the Riverbend Music Center on Wednesday night, there to see and hear the music of two bands who have stood the test of time as well as any. REO Speedwagon and Chicago are spending the summer of 2014 touring together and for those in attendance on Wednesday, it was money well spent.
The two groups made their names with hit after hit in the 70s and 80s but their show on Wednesday proved that they have not skipped a beat over all those decades.
After a short opening set by musician Tim Stop, REO Speedwagon took the stage to the delight of a surprisingly large number of fans decked out in REO attire. One woman in the front row was seeing the group in concert for the 80th time and paid scalpers $240 apiece for tickets for her and her son. That’s dedication to a band.
REO lead vocalist Kevin Cronin, who has had that job since 1972, was in rare form with that distinctive voice that doesn’t seem to have changed one bit since then. The band performed an 11-song set, that had about half the crowd on their feet for the entire time. Looking like they had never lost a step, the “young rock band” as Cronin described them, gave the audience what they came for, cranking out their hits such as “Don’t Let Him Go,” “Take It on the Run,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” and “Time for Me to Fly.” The set ended appropriately with “Back on the Road Again.”
After a very short break, it was time for Chicago to take center stage. “Rock and Roll with horns” as they are sometimes described, the group has been in existence since 1967 and four of the original members (James Pankow, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, and Walter Parazaider) are still part of the group, though Parazaider was not present Wednesday night and replaced very capably by saxophonist Ray Hermann.
When Chicago performs, it is little talk and lots of music. The only two real pauses in the show came when Lamm introduced the group and Pankow gave his normal introduction to “Just You N Me”, saying there are two kinds of people who love that song, those who were married to it and those who were conceived to it.
Since their inception, the uniqueness of their music has been the ultra-talented horn section and nary a song went by that didn’t feature those three, including the charismatic and energetic James Pankow, who has always been the soul of the group when they are on stage. Pankow didn’t disappoint on this night, either, popping up all over the stage with his trusty trombone always in hand, providing energy at all stops.
Chicago has a new album to promote but oddly only performed one song from that new material, the title track “Now” led by the lead vocals of Jason Scheff, who has long since made fans of the band forget Peter Cetera. No doubt in a solo concert fans may have heard more of the new material.
The band opened with a piece from Chicago II, “Ballet for a Girl in Buchanan,” and there was no looking back from that point. Through “You’re the Inspiration,” “Beginnings (lead vocals Lamm),” “Saturday in the Park,” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” it was rock and roll with horns all evening.
The group also pulled out an old classic, “I’m a Man,” which acted as a chance for the rest of the group to catch their collective breaths as drummers Tris Imboden and Walfrado Reyes Jr. dueled in an extended drum solo. Add in the guitar solos of Keith Howland and the keyboards an vocals of Lou Pardini and the band sounded as good as ever, closing their set with “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.”
The end of the Chicago solo ortion of the show only set the stage for the decibel level to be turned up as both bands, 14 musicians in all, took the stage for a six-song encore, three songs from REO history and three from Chicago’s. It was an interesting mix as members of each group sang vocals on the other’s songs, culminating in the Chicago classic “25 or 6 to 4” which had the crowd up and dancing the night away.
Two classic rock bands for the price of one sent fans happy on this night. Perhaps an odd combination of bands, but one that certainly worked.