London Hammersmith Apollo, 7th June 2007

It’s been a while since I saw the inside of the Hammersmith Apollo. Back then it was the Odeon, and Europe blew my eardrums out with their current top ten hit “The Final Countdown”. The name may have changed, but the old girl is still a fantastic venue with a wide stage and great acoustics. It’s been a while for REO Speedwagon as well, seeing as they last played the UK 22 years ago. Are they welcome back? Let’s hope so.

It’s slightly depressing that only the lower section of the hall has been offered up to fans, and with the looming spectre of an empty balcony overhead I wonder if  there’s gonna be enough love in the room. Mind you, downstairs is pretty much full, with middle age spread and male pattern baldness ripe amongst fans who have been waiting far too long for their band to entertain them again. Bring it on.

Oddly, the lights go down and Foo Fighters’ “All My Life” thunders from the speakers, with strobe lights even more likely to cause epileptic fits than the London Olympic logo! Just as bald heads are being scratched in confusion the band hit the stage in a flurry of activity. “Don’t Let Him Go” and “Music Man” go down pretty much as you’d expect, with the majority of the crowd seeming to know every word. Without a pause for breath, “Take It On the Run” and “Keep Pushin’” follow, flawlessly executed with what seems like genuine passion from the band. Finally, Kevin Cronin (“KC” to his friends) stops jumping around to say hello and to inform the crowd that “We’re here to party”. The crowd seem to be pretty okay with this as a mission statement, and allow the band to break up their Greatest Hits setlist with “I Needed To Fall” from the fantastic new album. Suddenly it’s the early 80’s again, and the power ballad is king, with the new track fitting in perfectly with the retro material.

For a band named after a car, REO Speedwagon are certainly a well oiled machine. Throughout the gig the musicianship is uniformly excellent, helped by a decent sound mix and some truly effective lighting. Dave Amato pulls off some amazing solos with what seems like ease, whilst behind him is the ever present powerhouse drumming of Bryan Hitt. All eyes, however, are following lead singer KC as he flits about the stage like a hyperacticve whippet. His voice is as good as it ever was, bringing life to classic such as “Tough Guys”, “Roll With The Changes” and the perennial favourite “ 157 Riverside Avenue”. I swear that throughout the gig the man doesn’t stop smiling, even when he introduces “Time For Me To Fly” by saying that life is, basically, shit: “When those good days come along, I just squeeze every ounce of juice out of them,” he says, still with that twinkle. If the lights ever fail at a gig, I’m sure that KC’s smile could keep the gig lit up.

What we get, essentially, is the same set as on the “Live plus” album, in the tradition of “If It Ain’t Broke…”, with some songs from the new album put in. Those new songs, however, are incredibly welcome. “Dangerous Combination” and “Smilin’ In The End” kick some serious ass, sounding great live. Having a new album out gives KC the chance to chap to the crowd, something he loves doing, often introducing songs with a little story.

It’s kind of sad when the gig ends and the lights go up. Instead of walking off, however, KC confers with his bandmates and asks the crowd “Do you want another?”. The answering happy roar decides this, and the band belt out Van Morrison’s old classic “Gloria” as the lights are lowered again and the lighting technician no doubt vows revenge. Afterwards, it really is the end, though even now the band stay on the stage to sign autographs and throw what seems like hundreds of plectrums into the crowd. I buy a t-shirt on my way out, hoping that the next time they come around it won't be an antique.

Welcome back, boys.

Review & Photos by Alan Holloway
11 June 2007
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