Champaign’s own REO Speedwagon took the stage on Monday night at The Virginia Theater. Playing to a packed house the band performed a nearly two hour set showcasing their classic hits, some deep tracks, and even a few covers. It seemed to be less of a concert and more of a party as the band immediately felt at home and engaged with the audience as though they were old friends. If rocking with the five members of the band wasn’t enough for the crowd, surprise guests were brought up to lend their musical talents on three songs later in the show.
The band opened with “Don’t Let Him Go”, which was the first cut on their breakthrough album Hi Infidelity back in 1980. As expected, REO played a handful of songs from the record. Prior to the cut “In Your Letter”, lead singer Kevin Cronin shared the backstory to the tune with the audience. According to Cronin, founding member Neal Doughty came home one night to find a note written by his soon to be ex-wife waiting for him. The letter stated that she was leaving Doughty to run away with a man who used to provide the band with what Cronin referred to as pharmaceutical recreational substances. Doughty’s response? “I’m going to miss that guy.”
Cronin routinely shared anecdotes of both his life and the life of the band between songs. Perhaps the most moving story was one that he shared of founding member Gary Richrath, who passed away this past September. Cronin reminisced about Richrath’s influence and his contributions to the band, stating that without him, there never would have been an REO Speedwagon. He told of the time when Richrath, fed up with what he saw going on in the world around him, wrote the song “Golden Country” while sitting on the U of I Quad. In tribute to Richrath, the band performed the song to perfection. Richrath’s son, Eric Richrath, came on stage to perform “Ridin’ the Storm Out” with the band later in the set.
Additional guests included bass player Bruce Hall’s daughter Sara Hall (of the local C-U band Upshot) along with her brother Timmy on the song “Roll With the Changes”, and the return of REO’s original singer Terry Luttrell (currently of the Tons O’ Fun Band) on the song “157 Riverside Avenue”, an REO staple that was penned by Luttrell back in 1970.
When the show appeared to be over, REO broke into a final set consisting of three cover songs: Ted Nugent’s Stranglehold (sung by lead guitarist Dave Amato), Tom Petty’s Listen to Your Heart, and Van Morrison’s Gloria.
REO loves Champaign, and Champaign appears to love REO. Welcome back, REO. And welcome home.