• Category: Music
  • Written by Rick Ellis

Review: 'Chicago And REO Speedwagon: Live At Red Rocks'

When I was younger, one of the things I promised myself is that I wouldn't become one of those sad old guys still listening to the music of his youth 30 or 40 years later. I loved music as a teen and was reading Billboard magazine in high school. My first real job was at a radio station and that's also the first job where I was fired (for pulling a prank during an overnight DJ slot). 

So while I still appreciate the music I grew up on, I can go long periods without listening to any of it. Ironically, I've listened to more classic pop and rock in the past year due to my 11-year-old son's obsession with it than I have in the past twenty years.

But there are lots of people in the world happy to swim in the warm and comforting seas of nostalgia and that interest has kept both Chicago and REO Speedwagon on tour for much of the past couple of decades. To their credit, both bands have continued to release new albums to little or no attention. But with no radio station format around to play them, they have increasingly become veteran nostalgia acts. And how you feel about that will probably color how you feel about this concert special, apparently recorded in 2014 for a DVD release.

REO has co-headlined with a wide range of fellow classic rockers over the years, ranging from Styx to Bad Company. They continue to do well, in part because unlike many of their fellow classic rock acts, they still have an original singer who can reasonably recreate the hits. Sure, if you see the band too close, it's hard to see past the frail bodies and sometimes uneasy rocking out. But they aren't embarrassing themselves and if you want to pay good money to hear a 66-year-old sing "Take It On The Run," then this is the concert for you.

Chicago is a tougher situation for me. They were by far my favorite band in high school and I dip back and listen to their older stuff on a regular basis. But I wasn't a fan of the 80s-era power ballad Chicago and honestly, I'd prefer watching a 12-hour-long "Sanford & Son" marathon to hearing "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" again.

But Chicago is also difficult to watch because the bulk of the band's lead singers and performers have either passed away or left the band. The current-day Chicago does indeed have a few original members, so they're not in the same category as Foreigner, who was recently touring without any original band members. But the Chicago of today doesn't much sound like the songs I treasure from my youth. That's a dealbreaker for me, although the band continues to release new music and co-headline successful tours. Watching Chicago isn't anywhere near the cringeworthy level of a current day Billy Joel tour. But it still brings on an uncomfortable mix of sadness and discomfort.

If you're happy with just seeing the bands today and remembering the good old days, that's fine. This as good of a concert as any to watch and seeing the two bands play together is interesting enough. But it's tough to see myself age, much less the bands of my youth. I loved doing stand-up comedy, but also recognize that continuing to tour at my age would be more depressing than entertaining. No audience ever looked at Henny Youngman and thought "Man, I bet that guy has a great personal life."

As a performer, I can understand why so many classic rock bands are out there touring 20, 30 or even 40 years since their last hit. It's difficult to walk away, even when your body tells you its time. And especially if people are still willing to pay to see your perform.

But yet....there are times when I do wish they'd make that call. As Rick Nelson sang in that great 1970s song "Garden Party," "If memories are all I have/I'd rather drive a truck."