with REO Speedwagon
Midflorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, Tampa, FL • July 21, 2018
by Michelle Wilson
Living in Florida, we are so privileged to have no shortage of fabulous outdoor venues that offer a variety of musical acts to appeal to every fan. The double bill of REO Speedwagon and Chicago at Tampa’s Midflorida Credit Union Amphitheatre brought out a huge crowd for these long-time favorites. It was a typical Florida evening – hot and humid, with a gorgeous cotton-cloud sunset backdrop.
The back lawn held a sea of people and the seated area was packed when REO Speedwagon took the stage at 7:35pm to play just over an hour-long set. Frontman Kevin Cronin still has the pep and zeal of a man half his age, and the vocal chops too. In fact, he has never sounded better, and the band is still having a ball doing what they do, throwing picks, engaging the crowd in clap-alongs and sing-alongs, and offering up major bang for the buck. Backed by founding keyboardist Neal Doughty, bassist Bruce Hall, guitarist Dave Amato and drummer Bryan Hitt, the band packed more punch into their sixty-five minute than most bands do in a full show. The high-energy was contagious, and people were on their feet dancing and singing along for the entire set. Cronin was in high spirits and quite talkative. “We love it here in Tampa! You people surely make us feel right at home!”
Opening with “Don’t Let Him Go,” “In Your Letter,” “Keep Pushin’,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Tough Guys,” Cronin paused to reminisce about the early days. “I remember in those days in Florida in the ’70s there was only one song in the entire set that anyone knew, including the band! We milked it for everything it was worth and saved it ’til the end. When the beginning chords would hit, it caught fire. You could feel the vibe change and the feeling in the room changed. We thought, some day we will come back to Tampa, Florida where everyone can sing along to every song we play.” Then the familiar opening notes of “Take It On The Run” wrapped the crowd in a warm, fuzzy blanket and no doubt took everyone back in time to the first moment they heard the song. Amato killed it on guitar as the crowd belted out the lyrics. “Time For Me To Fly” was next and Amato broke out the double-neck guitar for this one, followed by band intros from Cronin.
“The people are expecting us to deliver some of that meat and potatoes rock ‘n’ roll. We are about to break out the REO secret weapon, Bruce, who now lives in Orlando,” shared Cronin. Hall gleefully shared his signature song, “Back On The Road Again,” with platinum blond hair blowing in the breeze while he played his bass. “Back on the road, all the way to Tampa, baby!” Cronin joked, and then the band did “Ridin’ The Storm Out.”
“Looking back on your life, you think about minutes that can change your life. In the spring of 1980, we needed a special song. I woke up from a dead sleep at 4am with three chords. I knew it was something special. I grabbed a Sony Walkman tape recorder to make a demo tape. It’s a good thing I did because our lives have never been the same since,” admitted Cronin, as he played the opening piano notes of “Keep On Loving You” with loud cheers from the crowd. “Keep on loving you, Tampa!” shouted Cronin as it ended. They segued into “Roll With The Changes” featuring outstanding Hammond B3 work from Doughty, and Hall’s young son playing a mini-snare drum towards the end. “Do we have time for one more? Look at these people – ok start rockin’, Tampa!” as Cronin pretended to push his guitar tech away. “One of my favorite rock bands is from right here in Florida, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Tom was my neighbor in Encino, California.” REO closed out their set in tribute to the late Tom Petty with “Listen To Her Heart.”
“We are REO Speedwagon. We love you and we always will, Tampa! Now get ready for our friends in Chicago!” It was a stellar set from beginning to end.
At 9pm, Chicago’s mighty ensemble took the stage while the crowd went down nostalgia lane as photos and footage of the band’s early years flashed on the big screen. There are still four original members of the band left (Robert Lamm/keys/vocals, Lee Loughnane/trumpet, James Pankow/trombone and Walt Parazaider/saxophones/flute), although Parazaider no longer tours. Rounding out the remainder of the band are Ray Hermann/saxophones/flute, Keith Howland/guitar/vocals, Lou Pardini/keyboards/vocals, Brett Simons/bass, Walfredo Reyes, Jr./drums, Ramon Yslas/percussion and Neil Donell/vocals/acoustic guitar.
In stark contrast to REO’s crowd-pleaser, Chicago left many fans disappointed and frustrated with their somewhat gratuitous offering of Chicago II (1970) in its entirety. The mammoth double-album is rife with socio-political themes of the day (“We were young and stupid and we felt we had something to prove.”) and meant to be heard sequentially, however, they played it out of side order. They opened their set with Side 2, which features “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon,” the 7-song opus that spawned the hits “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World.” I “kinda” get why they did it, since opening with “Make Me Smile” immediately got the crowd on-board – but it was short-lived. Rabid fans had to wait until the SEVENTEETH song for the band to throw them a bone – “25 Or 6 To 4” – the other hit from this record. At least it was a good one, and one they knew. But it was way too late in the game. The issue wasn’t really that they played the record; it was that they played it in order, without mixing in the hits. That’s just not something fans want to choke down, even diehards. In fairness to the band, it WAS publicly announced that this was their intention, and that they would play “the world’s longest encore” after the intermission (although this show didn’t have one).
One of the real highlights from Chicago II was the beautiful Terry Kath-penned “Memories Of Love,” with Pankow offering these heartfelt words before the song: “A big part of us was Terry Kath. He’s not with us anymore. Terry was the heart and soul of the band. He left us but left behind a little for us.”
Guitarist Howland’s blistering solo at the end of “Where Do We Go From Here” took the band into the last two songs of the second album, “It Better End Soon” and the Lamm classic, “25 Or 6 To 4,” with the new vocalist, Donell, slaying the erstwhile Peter Cetera vocals.
Finally through the second album, founding keyboardist/singer Lamm came down from the riser and addressed the audience. “So my name is Robert Lamm. I’m a founding member of Chicago.” After he went through the long list of band intros, the long-awaited stream of hits arrived for which the faithful flocked out. “This one goes out to my wife and kids and you.” And with acoustic guitar in hand, he launched into “Beginnings,” followed by “Dialogue (Part I & II),” “Call On Me” and “If You Leave Me Now.”
“Are you having fun Tampa? [A strategically placed question because many in this crowd definitely were NOT having fun a few minutes earlier, in fact there was a steady stream of people heading for the exit.] “It’s about the music, the fans and you. These next two are two of our favorites,” and they launched into “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “You’re The Inspiration,” followed by the Steve Winwood/Jimmy Miller/The Spencer Davis Group hit, “I’m a Man” with incredible drum/percussion solos, “Just You and Me,” “Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry/Get Away,” “Saturday In The Park” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.” The band is not doing an encore on this tour but just playing the hits straight through to the end.
Overall, it was a great night of music for those who chose to stay until the end. Musically, both bands are still in top form and continue to draw huge crowds to their shows.
Check out the full gallery of Chicago photos from Rock Legends Photographers.