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Rib Fest Reviews: REO, Doobies, Rev. Peyton

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The Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band

Folks who came out early to see Rev Peyton and his down-and-dirty Indiana blues were rewarded with a set of some of his crunchiest and energetic best. Fans love "Clap Your Hands," but "2 Bottles of Wine" was one of the highlights.

Amidst the setting sun, on the big stage before REO Speedwagon came on, Rev., Breezy and Cuz rocked the hard-core Rev-Heads who were nicely vocal and helped the band as it played to potential converts.

They clearly have benefited from the years on the road, musically tight without losing the inherent greasiness of the music, and comfortable in front of a vastness of seats and pods of hopping fans.

Plus, the weather was hot and perfect for Peyton's stage outfit.

REO Speedwagon

It was thirty years ago this year that REO Speedwagon's Hi Infidelity owned the number one spot on the album charts for fifteen weeks, completing their ascent from bar-band rockers to chart-topping arena rock heroes. Friday night at Military Park in Indianapolis, the sturdy Midwest rock and rollers showcased that record, and unsurprisingly dug into their vast classic rock radio catalog to keep a large opening-night crowd happy. An hour and forty-five minutes and sixteen songs later, they firmly and ably proved themselves to be as relevant as any band that tours behind thirty-year-old material can be, no irony intended.

Entering to the sounds of Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man”, REO (which features three guys — Kevin Cronin, bassist Bruce Hall and keyboardist Neil Doughty — who have been with the band since the early days) reeled off six in a row from Hi Infidelity, opening with a hard-hitting, arena-rock-ready version of the Bo Diddley-esque “Don’t Let Him Go," followed by a surprising early spot for their #1 single “Keep on Loving You." It lacked the sheen of the studio, replaced by a rawer, crackling sound, with Dave Amato’s guitar solo providing a note-perfect replication of former guitarist Gary Richrath’s recorded work.

Lesser-know tracks “In Your Letter” and “Someone Tonight” followed before Cronin strapped on a Fender Telecaster for “Tough Guys." It started, as on the album, with the recorded Young Rascals “he-man woman haters club” sound bite. The song lumbered until Amato shifted the band to a higher gear with his solo, able to connect with the audience, reverent without being rote

Cronin has elevated himself to the status of “excellent arena rock frontman” — a title I would never have guessed he would earn. In the tradition of Mick Jagger and Peter Wolf, Cronin kept the crowd’s energy up throughout the night (his ramble before ”Can’t Fight This Feeling” the exception), referred to Indianapolis and the band’s history in the city numerous times and played up the frontman-as-preacher angle nicely.

The first singalong came with “Take it on the Run," and from that point point, it was, with just one ballad exception, a classic rock lovefest to the end of the show. “Keep Pushin’ was sturdy, and the two vets standing next to me recognized and reminded each other of the social significance as a protest song held by “Golden Country” as its first notes rang out. The band embraced their '70s sound with those two cuts, with help from Doughty’s keyboard work on Hammond B3 and piano. Much as the late Danny Federici was to the E Street Band, Doughty is to REO.

When a nod to the bar band days followed, with the Seger-ish “Son of a Poor Man," the couple a few yards away must have liked it, because they were passing a celebration doobie. “Can’t Fight This Feeling”, was my perfect port-o-john’s song, and as I hustled to one, I found people in the far back were singing along to the song that still drives me crazy and is mind-piercingly familiar.

The band rebounded with “Like You Do," going back to a 1972 guitar rock jam, and one of the songs of the show that had less resemblance to the shiny REO of the 80’s glory days, instead echoing the hard rock sound of a young REO.

The anthemic “Time for Me to Fly” spotlighted the acoustic guitar work of Cronin, who played an anchoring rhythm guitar much of the night. This song, a masterpiece in the heartland rock genre, soared. The crowd ate it up.

Shouting that the band was bringing out the “classic rock artillery” for the rest of the show, Hall again took lead vocals, and provided one of the night’s highlights, a tough version of “Back on the Road Again” with his sweetly husky and rough vocals. The song was a five-minute primer on why REO stands above most of the bands (Foreigner and Styx, for example) who still hit the road 30 or 40 years after they started. The Speedwagon look really good for being near 60 years old: Doughty is a spry 65 and Cronin hits 60 this October. They bounce around the stage; the musical tightness of the group is clearly evident; they subtly extend and embellish songs, giving a refreshing twist to what could be note-for-note replications of the studio versions; and they sound damn good playing their music, in part because even the “newer” members have been in the group since 1990.

“Roll With the Changes” provided Doughty a highlight for the night, with his accents and solo, as the song closed the regular set. Because he hadn’t heard “Riding The Storm Out”, a dude standing nearby — no shirt, many body tattoos and a five-beer buzz — started going nuts when the band left the stage, and seemed to think the men of REO were gone for the night. I told the vet next to me to watch the guy lose his mind when the band returns. And ape-shit that man did go when the boys came back, as the spotlights hit the crowd for the engine-revving, power chord intro to the aforementioned song. Funny stuff.

Pulling out the boogie of ”157 Riverside Avenue” — a cut that first appeared on their debut record, but got it’s exposure on the early live album You Get What you Play For - Cronin reminded the crowd that they recorded that live album in Indianapolis (he said at Market Square Arena, though Wikipedia list the Convention Center as the venue), and as the band ripped through the bluesy, vocal-and-guitar duel, the show crashed to an end.

It was REO Speedwagon’s version of Midwest rock and roll, embraced by band and crowd. There were no apologies; this is Indiana, and the music is what many Hoosiers heard on their car radios and stereos. It was music familiar, delivered with seeming sincerity and without irony. It was heartland rock, and wholly enjoyable.

SETLIST: Don't Let Him Go; Keep On Loving You; In Your Letter; Someone Tonight; Tough Guys; Take It On The Run; Keep Pushin'; Golden Country; Son Of A Poor Man; Can't Fight This ; Feeling; Like You Do; Time For Me To Fly; Back On The Road Again; Roll With The Changes. Encore: Ridin' The Storm Out; 157 Riverside Avenue

The Doobie Brothers

As the crowd sang along to the "whoa-oh-oh" refrain in "Listen to the Music," The Doobie Brothers wrapped up rewarding night for those rock music fans who dodged earlier thunderstorms and streamed to Military Park Saturday. The band's mix of California harmonies and amps-to-11 guitar rock worked for the large crowd of revelers.

Rib America is no coffeehouse; it's up to bands (especially the headliners) to bring a show and a musical objective to each night. Unprepared and out of shape? Bad combo. Thankfully, the Doobie Brothers came with the goods: Harmonies and guitar rock. The trademark sweet-and-smoky harmonies still exist. The multiple percussion instruments still give the band their drive, and they aren't afraid to dig into a catalog of songs and pull out a forgotten track — or some new stuff that sounds old.

Much like REO Speedwagon the night before, the Doobie Brothers have maintained core credibility. They do it with with a trademark sound — and with original members Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston continuing to front the band, and John McFee (with the band since 1979) on guitar.

It's easy to by lulled by the polished versions of their music on the radio, yet the Doobies give the live versions an expected and welcome rough edge. They played three tunes off their most recent album, 2010's World Gone Crazy, including the title cut, plus "Chateau" (featuring McFee's nasty slide guitar) — and the new-but-sounds-old "Nobody".

Much of the remainder of the set was comprised of familiar classics, road-tested and Saturday night friendly. They leaned on their first big album for four tunes, including the forgotten "Don't Start Me Talkin', from their 1972 album Toulouse Street

SETLIST: Jesus Is Just Alright; Dangerous; Rockin' Down The Highway; Take Me In Your Arms; Clear As The Driven Snow; Nobody; Far From Home; World Gone Crazy; Chateau; Takin' It To The Streets; Don't Start Me Talkin'; Little Bitty Pretty One (Bobby Day cover); Black Water; Long Train Runnin'. Encore: China Grove; Without You; Listen To The Music.

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