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REO Speedwagon delights Artpark crowd

LEWISTON – Rocking and crooning mightily since the ’70s, REO Speedwagon, led by vocalist and guitarist Kevin Cronin, shows no signs of road weariness.

The band’s songs have long been a staple of booze-fueled karaoke nights, couples dances and hearty singalongs. Tuesday night, REO presented one power ballad after another to the delight of a huge Artpark crowd.

The Artpark concert series spectacle showcased a rollicking set by REO, a band with an ardent and longtime Western New York following.

The band opened with the distinctive, driving drums of “Don’t Let Him Go,” a jaunty tune about a hard-to-snare bad boy, before heading into ’70s-era “Music Man,” not one of their more catchy melodies but one showcasing the guitar chops of Cronin and Dave Amato, along with bassist Bruce Hall of the ever-flowing rock ’n’ roll mane.

Then onto the evening’s first big happy singalong moment, “Take It on the Run.”

The set veered from revered hits to lesser-known songs from the vast REO archive, which showcased the band’s musicianship but did not inspire body-swaying moments. Energy on the stage remained high-to-frenetic throughout (with occasional front-line pauses for photogenic moments for cameras in their midst), but the crowd’s energy waned.

When the power ballads emerged so did the cameras, fists and beers – held aloft by arms alongside beaming faces.

The band, noting that the Midwestern salad days of yore formed it into the cohesive rock ’n’ roll machine that it is today, referenced being a mere “bar band” playing in Champaign, Ill, their hometown.

“It’s our goal,” Cronin shouted, “to turn a big beautiful place like this into a big skanky-... bar.”

Cronin led off “Like You Do” with a story about the band’s ’72 green Chevy Impala station wagon. Nostalgia was in the air.

Cronin sermonized a bit before launching into “Golden Country,” an interesting protest song from the same vintage as the band’s aforementioned classic car.

Noting the venue’s proximity to Canada, he spoke of his gratitude for being able to express his “intellectual beliefs.”

The song, again not a foremost REO favorite, showcased more of the band’s guitar mastery.

Encores “Keep on Lovin’ You” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out” followed by a rollicking rendition of “Gloria” did indeed turn that geographic music venue alongside the Niagara Gorge into one big barroom singalong, which was what Cronin, and REO devotees, had wished for all night long.

Among the Tuesday night throng were Buffalo tax adviser Colleen Talty Feyko and her ex-pat sister Maureen Talty Lowery, who jetted in from Valencia, Calif., for the show. Due to the twisting road of fate, the sisters hadn’t had a chance to see REO, a rock favorite, together before. A plan to see the band in the ’80s didn’t happen.

“We never got to go together, so now is our time. She flew in to go with me. This is awesome, a beautiful night, a great concert,” said Feyko, who danced and sang the night away with her sister and nearby concertgoers.

Opener the Nick Moss Band was a visual and aural contrast to the taut and strutting rock of REO with its solid attack. The Chicago blues-rock quintet aced a set that had crispy Southern overtones, no lyrical competition for REO.