by Steven Sanchez
Classic rock legends, REO Speedwagon, rolled through Fresno on Monday, January 16, at the Saroyan Theatre, and just as usual, it was another great display of their longevity, and with over fifty years of rock stardom, they still got it. Kings River Life had the privilege of covering them a few years back in 2020, before things went to you know what, but from that point till now, with that gap in between, there’s been no difference or decline with their overall energy and their love of playing music.The Illinois-based rockers brought the classic hits to the downtown venue with a nostalgic audience equipped to hearing the jams to take them back to the good ol’ days of 8-tracks and denim. Their accomplishments and credentials speak for themselves. Their 1980 masterpiece album, Hi Infidelity, spent fifteen weeks at number 1 on the chart, sold ten million copies, and overall have sold more than forty million records and has charted thirteen top 40 hits. They shuffled through them all. They played “Keep on Loving You,” “Take It On The Run,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” And I was blown away by their own rendition of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” which is an acoustic classic from the supergroup Crosby, Stills, & Nash. They ended the night with my personal favorite, “Roll With The Changes.”
The climactic song was a fitting choice as it’s self-serving title can be interpreted as a metaphor for what the band and what everybody has experienced in the last few years. The pandemic effected everybody from entertainers to everyday people, both equally have been craving live entertainment. The undisputed leader of the band, singer/guitarist/songwriter Kevin Cronin, announced to the Central Valley crowd how the pandemic impacted him and the band. He said, that through the melancholy, it’s great for everybody to be with each other and enjoying the music and how great it is to be back to an exciting applause.Everybody in attendance was rockin’ especially with it being a winter Monday night. The band was out there owning the crowd, moving around with exuberance that you couldn’t tell the difference between it being 1980 or 2023, maybe a little less hair, but the energy was still there. And this was also the first tour where the band was missing their founding member and keyboardist Neal Doughty. After fifty-five years with the band, he decided to retire, so they ended up getting the keyboardist from Rick Springfield, Derek Hilland; he was more than worthy of handling the task filling into Doughty’s shoes. He only had a small window of time to memorize the songs, and he did a good job performing the songs with much delight from the audience that would’ve made Doughty proud.
The band has been experiencing a kind of resurgence lately as their music has been updated to a new young audience in the last few years. One of their staples, “Take It On The Run,’ was featured during a pivotal scene in the Netflix series, Cobra Kai, that serves as a sequel companion to The Karate Kid franchise. The song “Keep On Loving You” was featured in a The General Insurance commercial where it was hilariously sung by NBA legend Shaquille O’ Neal.
Even the opening act, Sir, Please, brought much enthusiasm to start off the night right. They’re a funkadelic pop rock band from Agoura Hills, and they brought a fun energy to their set which was a good appetizer as a lead into the main act. Their rendition of the Scorpion’s classic, “Rock You Like A Hurricane,” jolted everybody into an adrenaline fervor that left a good impression on the older crowd. They were impressive and the Cali rock round is in good hands with these guys.
Speedwagon set the tone for a great 2023 of shows to look forward to, and we’re just getting started. The Fresno Convention Center has a good lineup to look forward to along with other venues in the area. And we look forward to be covering the great shows and bringing you the highlights of all the great entertainment the Central Valley has to offer. Much appreciation to the band’s publicist, Scoop Marketing, and the people behind the scenes at the Fresno Convention Center for facilitating everything. It was a great time, a good way to start off the year right, and they showed that this ride ain’t slowing down any time soon.