REO Speedwagon

Diamond Center at Desert Diamond Casino, Sunday, Oct. 8

People are generally incredulous when I tell them that I'm a fan of REO Speedwagon, and I usually have a bit of explaining to do. I grew up just an hour away from the band's hometown of Champaign, Ill., and in the '70s, when the concept of regional rock bands existed, I fell for them. In those days, they were a paragon of straightforward Midwestern rock 'n' roll. Plus, they boasted Gary Richrath, a skillful guitarist who imbued each note with soul. Later, of course, in the '80s, they switched their sound to the somewhat generic big-chorus anthems and power ballads that came to define arena rock, and that's when I stopped caring.

That's mostly what they stuck with last Sunday night. They started off with "Don't Let Him Go," and the sound mix seemed a bit off, which isn't too unusual for the first song or two. But after that second song, singer Kevin Cronin explained why. "I'm gonna be right up front with you. My voice is trashed," he said, explaining that being on the road since May had finally taken its toll, and that he had seen a doctor earlier in the day who "gave me a shot in my butt. But I'm gonna give you 100 percent of what I've got," he said, and begged the audience to help him through it. It all came off as rather charming, even as his vocals only got worse as the night progressed.

But the biggest disappointment came when I realized that Richrath was no longer a part of the REO lineup (and apparently hasn't been for years). REO Speedwagon without Gary Richrath is like Cheap Trick without Rick Nielsen, KISS without Ace Frehley. No Richrath? No "Only the Strong Survive," no "Flying Turkey Trot," no "Like You Do," no "157 Riverside Avenue," the highlight of which was always the call and response between Cronin's "doo doo doo"s and Richrath perfectly imitating back what Cronin sang, on his guitar.

To add insult to injury, Richrath's replacement since 1989, guitarist Dave Amato, is a standard-issue, soulless wanker the likes of which can be found hanging out in the guitar section of any local music store, shredding his licks incessantly on guitar after guitar for anyone who will listen.

Still, the crowd, who belted out every power ballad at full volume, didn't seem to mind at all. After all, they were seeing arena rock songs performed in a far smaller room than an arena.

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