PHOTOS + REVIEW — REO Speedwagon at Ruth Eckerd Hall 2023

REO Speedwagon w/ Levon • February 07, 2023 • Ruth Eckerd Hall — Clearwater, FL • Photos by Randy Cook —

REVIEW: REO Speedwagon

REO Speedwagon rocked Clearwater, FL for a sold out performance at Ruth Eckerd Hall on February 7, 2023. We fans were treated to a night of rocking remembrance as the band touched upon several of their releases and of course played heavily from their popular radio anthemic hits, which are still in rotation today.

It is hard for me to fathom that REO Speedwagon’s debut album was released over fifty years ago, hence the term ‘Dad Rock’ which I just discovered hearing the term for the first time as the crowd was shuffling into the venue. While the band has gone through a few personnel changes in the early years, the current lineup has been together and touring for over thirty years although with a very recent change with the addition of Derek Hilland on keyboards as long-time keyboardist Neal Doughty has retired from touring.

This was my second time seeing REO Speedwagon and they are a band I grew up listening to and watching their videos on MTV. For the nostalgic among us, I think it is interesting to note that REO Speedwagon’s hit ‘Take It on the Run’ was the ninth video ever played on MTV back in 1981. They had eight different songs play within the station’s first 200 videos, including another of their monster ballad hits ‘Keep on Loving You’, which was the first Billboard Hot 100 number-one hit to be played on MTV. It is no surprise that the band has a very strong fan base that continues to this day.

Sure I knew there would not be any mosh pits or anything as I had a couple of my metal friends turn a funny eye to me when I said I was going to this show. I think Ralph Macchio’s statement as Daniel LaRusso to William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence in the Netflix series Cobra Kai epitomizes my love for REO Speedwagon, when Johnny is surprised that Daniel could possibly like REO Speedwagon in this exchange as they ride in a car as ‘Take it on the Run’ plays on the radio:

Johnny: “You like Speedwagon?” Daniel: “What kind of man doesn’t!”

It was such a profound and true statement that even the band themselves shared the clip on social media:

As with every show I go to I take interest in the makeup of the age demographics in the crowd and it was not unexpected that this was a multi-generational crowd given the band having a career that spans five decades. Another thought that came to mind was that the band’s inclusion into the Rock Band video game series opened them up to a completely new, younger generation of fans. This was easily a three-generation show as evidenced by the faces I saw in the crowd.

It was the same lineup as my first time seeing REO Speedwagon in that the band Levon was the opening act. In 2021 Levon played an acoustic set where this evening they were full plugged in and totally rocked the house. This is a band who is fully inspired by REO Speedwagon, as lead singer Michael David Hall took a moment to share with the crowd how proud the band was to be invited back for another tour with REO and told us in the crowd to “…follow your dreams, you never know where they will take you…one day you might just be opening for your musical idols, REO Speedwagon”. Levon played a couple of covers in their set, and shared that both of them were requests by REO band members. Guitarist Ryan Holladay handled the vocals on their cover of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ and it was so spot on they received a well-deserved standing ovation after the song was complete. We were also asked to just sit back and enjoy the show, to …”worry about your problems tomorrow, as tonight we were here to rock!”

As the lights dimmed and show time for REO Speedwagon was upon us there was a brief moment a hushed silence of eager anticipation upon the crowd but as soon as those first notes hit our ears the crowd was up on their feet and engaged as the band launched into ‘Don’t Let Him Go’ to open their set. Singer Kevin Cronin was very engaging with the crowd sharing stores that led into the next song and showing appreciation to the fans. He acknowledged that without the fans, there would be no REO Speedwagon. His vocal range may not be what it once was, and while he certainly encouraged us fans to sing along, in no way did he need us to carry the tune(s).

The set list touched upon nine different releases and played heavily from my personal favorite, Hi Infidelity which was released in 1980, coinciding with my musically formative years. This was a very sentimental show for me, as I recall being a youngster in middle school in the early 80s and I idolized (the late) Gary Richrath and his guitar playing style after seeing the band’s videos on MTV. I would use my tennis racket and air guitar the band’s gushing love songs, singing my heart out into an invisible microphone to the cute girl from my French class who had no idea I was even alive. From the faces I saw in the crowd I was not alone in my trip down memory lane throughout every song played this evening.

As the set list progressed throughout the night it was apparent just how much fun the band was having engaging and interacting with the crowd. Once their more popular hits came along it was a literal sing along between the band and the audience. It was a very touching intro from Kevin as he introduced ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’, a song he dedicated to his future wife, he just had not met her yet at the time he wrote that smash hit. It was quite apparent from what I could see many couples in the crowd considered it ‘their song’ and there was some definite slow dancing in the isles occurring.

To say that I have grown up with this band is an understatement. Their songs have been with me and on the radio for times when I have had to ride the storms of life out, as I have rolled with the changes that we all go through in life and most certainly for the times when I knew it was time for me to fly from certain situations I had found myself in. REO Speedwagon has not released any new music since 2007 and yet they are still selling out shows, which just solidifies the longevity of their music.

By the time the final notes of their concluding song ended, a standing ovation was in order and delivered for the appreciation of the musicianship and timeless rock and roll journey the band had just performed for us in attendance. As always, my compliments to the sound crew, every show I have ever seen at Ruth Eckerd Hall the sound was spectacular and the band was spot on in their musical timing (thirty years playing together will do that). Also worth a mention is just how good the lighting was as by the time I got to my seat after my three song photo allotment near the front of the stage I wished I could have kept on shooting photos from my seat. Alas, I sat back and rocked my way down memory lane alongside those next to and around me.

It was an excellent show, I highly enjoyed the experience and I encourage anyone who is a fan who have not seen this band live to do so before it is time for them to fly off into retirement. I wish I had not waited until 2021 to see them for the first time and will certainly keep my eyes and ears out for any of the future shows in my area.

REO Speedwagon is:
Derek Hilland – keyboards
Kevin Cronin – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards
Bruce Hall – bass, backing and lead vocals
Dave Amato – lead guitar, backing vocals
Bryan Hitt – drums

REO Speedwagon set list for February 7, 2023 at Ruth Eckerd Hall:
Don’t Let Him Go
Music Man
Take It on the Run
Keep Pushin’
Live Every Moment
That Ain’t Love
Tough Guys
Can’t Fight This Feeling
Son of a Poor Man
Building the Bridge
Time for Me to Fly
Back on the Road Again
Ridin’ the Storm Out

Keep On Loving You
Roll With the Changes

REO Speedwagon Live Concert Review and Photos by Randy Cook /// @horns_raised

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