It's almost exactly a year since I first saw REO Speedwagon, who managed to impress me enough at the Hammersmith Apollo that I'm happy to make another trip to the capital just to see them for a second time. A traffic accident blights our passage, meaning that we miss the support act (by all accounts they were rubbish), and we arrive with minutes to spare at the O2 Arena. It's at once an impressive and ugly sight, looking like a holiday camp designed by blind hedgehogs. The venue itself is not the main arena, where the likes of Led Zeppelin have played, but the IndigO2, a smaller piece of the set up which still boasts a capacity of over 2000. Compared to the likes of The Astoria it's all awfully civilized and clean, like watching a band in a really nice nightclub, at the same time intimate and roomy, if that makes any sense.
There's plenty of people in, and the atmosphere is very warm. REO Speedwagon fans are not the types to rip up seats and behave like loonys, and there is no barrier or even security round the stage. The crowd are happy to lounge in their seats and wait politely for the band to emerge, although when they do there is a wave of genuine warmth that flows over the stage. Kevin “KC” Cronin is, as always, a walking smile factory as he and the boys launch into a set that is pretty much faultless. As they give us the uptempo rockers like “Don't Let Him Go”, “Keep Pushin” and my personal favourite “Tough Guys” the audience sing along with as much gusto as the man on stage. It's all very polite, and I find myself happily flitting all over the place, at the front of the stage for the atmosphere or by the mixing desk further back for the better sound. Only one guy is going a bit mad with the air guitar, and even he is nice enough to do it well out of the way of everyone else. This, I suppose, is what you get when there are no teenagers in the crowd.
Despite the fact it's a year old, “Find Your Way Back Home” is still referred to as the 'new' album, with the band in the middle of a pretty grueling tour, which included a stint this morning on UK breakfast television. The album is well represented, with “I Needed To Fall”” getting a brilliant acoustic rollout by KC, as well as the title track, “Smilin In The End” (which should be Cronin's theme tune) and the always superb “Dangerous Combination”. These are mixed with obvious classics like “Take It On the Run”, “Keep On Lovin' You” and “Time For Me To Fly”. The latter manages to give all of the band members a chance to shine, especially during some stunning guitar from Dave Amato. Amato also pulls out the big guns for “Back On The Road Again”, a song that allows bassist Bruce Hall to take the mike once a night. Interestingly, the band drag “Son Of A Poor Man” out of retirement, and it's good to hear a song that hearkens back to the bands honky tonk bar room days.
Unsurprisingly, it's all over too soon, with the band opting not to to finish with “157 Riverside Avenue”, which although on the playlist did not materialize. It's a shame, because I've really enjoyed the whole night, with the clear sound, friendly venue and top musicianship making it a fun and memorable evening. Hopefully the band will return to these shores, and once again I have to urge all of you out there to catch them if you can – you won't regret it.
SET LIST: Don't Let Him Go; Take It on the Run; Find Your Way Back Home; That Ain't Love; Tough Guys; Can't Fight This Felling; Dangerous Combination; Son Of A Poor Man; Smilin' In The End; Time For Me To Fly; Back On The Road Again; Keep On Lovin' You; Roll With the Changes; Riding The Storm Out
Review & Photos by Alan Holloway