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Pat Benatar / REO Speedwagon

SPECIAL CONCERT REVIEW        
Pat Benatar / REO Speedwagon
with special guest Edwin McCain
 
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Morrison, Colorado
July 21, 2010



It's like the Queen's ballroom when it comes to concert venues. Red Rocks. Definitely the most picturesque venue in the U.S., and, perhaps, the world. Flanked on three sides by red stone and tightly set in the side of Colorado's Rocky Mountains, this is a place that is revered by musicians the world over. Not only is it pretty to look at, but Red Rocks with its naturally cavernous setting is known to be one of the most acoustically sound venues in the world.
 
So the family vacation was to South Dakota and Colorado this year.....
I was the one chosen to plan and execute the itinerary for this year's trip, so the first step was to see who was playing Red Rocks, and that would dictate when we were to arrive in Colorado. Seeing the classic rock lineup of REO and Pat Benatar, I was sure that this would be "wife approved," and it was. In fact, the whole famliy was excited to be going to this one.
I was finally going to make it to Red Rocks.
 
Just pulling into the parking lot is pretty exciting at this place. You have to understand, there is no flat land in Colorado. Wherever you go, you're either going uphill or downhill. So you park your car on the side of this mountain and start climbing staircases and ramps that wind around the bulk of nature that surrounds the stage and seating area. Once you reach seating, you take another deep breath and prepare to climb endless amounts of stairs to get to the small section of wood that you've rented for the night. I hesitate to call it a seat because, well, it's not a seat. Red Rocks has a bleacher-like arrangement, where your "seat" is really just a small portion of a really really long plank of wood that stretches from one side of the arena to the other. Many folks, regulars to the venue I'm sure, came prepared with pillows wrapped in plastic bags or those mini bench chairs that have backs to them. I came equipped only with my obesity, and it proved to be quite enough, really. 
 
I had heard that a guy by the name of Edwin McCain was going to be opening up this show, so a few weeks before the show I got hold of a Greatest Hits package he has available. I ended up liking almost everything on the CD, and was looking forward to the small set he was about to play. McCain is an unbelievably talented singer and songwriter that was really impressive with the half hour slot he was awarded. Oddly, Kevin Cronin came out and introduced him to the crowd, and it was obvious that he was greatly respected by the REO singer. Hearing the crowd react to McCain's big hit, "I'll Be," was pleasant, but the other songs he did were just as powerful. The emotion and soul he poured into the heartfelt "Walk With You" was enough to bring a tear or two. The Red Rocks sound system was meeting or exceeding expectation, and McCain's voice couldn't have been better.


 
During the break, there were some old interview clips with Kevin Cronin being played over the PA. They talked about the upcoming REO album entitled Hi Infidelity, which of course is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. It was a radio interview that was playing, and when Cronin was asked which song they should play he proudly told the DJ to pick any of them, as he felt that the album was strong all the way through. And with that, the lights went down and the band took the stage. It was quite an elaborate stage set, with spotlights of different colors embedded into multiple risers, and an enormous screen that almost spanned the entire width of the stage. And, because they are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their smash album, Hi Infidelity, the first four tracks of this set were the biggest hits from that album. Talk about a strong start. The band sounded extremely tight and they were highly energetic. Cronin's voice was crying for help and many points in the set, but his energy and the power of his band made up for his loss of range quite nicely. Hearing my favorite REO song, "Golden Country," was a delight, and seeing that the band recognizes their roots with older tracks like "Back On The Road Again" and "Like You Do" was a pleasure to witness. The band seemed to be enjoying every moment throughout the whole set, and this made it a lot of fun to watch. All in all, this was quite a strong performance for the band as a whole.
 
  It was now time for Pat Benatar and longtime hubby and guitarist Neil Giraldo to hit the stage with their band. During the break, I turned to my wife and kids and told them to plan for an amazing vocal performance, knowing that Benatar is a professionally trained singer. I expected to get a Pat Benatar that sounded like she did in her 80's heyday, but at least on this evening, that was not to be. Benatar was anything but "All Fired Up" as she sang the show opener in a volume that was barely audible. In effect, the song came over in a relaxed manner that didn't stir the emotions like an opening song should. As she moved through her set of colossal hits, her voice seemed to gain strength, but it never blew me away. Unlike REO's singer Kevin Cronin, who had a tight band and a dazzling stage set to make you forget all of the vocal shortcomings, Benatar had neither of those things working for her. The stage was stripped bare after the REO set, and Benatar and her cohorts were left only with the huge screen above and a couple of stools. And, even though it was great to hear hits like "Shadows Of The Night," "Love Is A Battlefield," and my favorite Benatar tune, "Hell Is For Children," the songs came over sounding loose and flat. I kept thinking that the rhythm section might not be on the same page. This drummer seemed to playing to his own beat, and that's why I was shocked to hear Benatar announce that I was watching Myron Grombacher, her longtime band member. I would expect Grombacher, Giraldo, and Benatar to function as one solid rock machine after so many years of playing together, but then again, maybe not. Bassist Mick Mahan has played with Benatar since 1995 as well. I couldn't quite pinpoint what wasn't "clicking," but the band wasn't nearly the cohesive unit that I expected to hear.



After the dust settled and the show had ended, I was thrilled to have seen two classic acts at such a prestigious venue as Red Rocks. With all of the uncomfortable nuances of the Pat Benatar set, I must say that I still enjoyed hearing those hits and seeing her and Giraldo interact. They really are one of rock's greatest couples.
Seeing and hearing REO Speedwagon do "Ridin' The Storm Out" while nestled within the Rocky Mountains had a certain vibe that goes unparalelled. Even REO singer Kevin Cronin expressed his appreciation to the Colorado crowd for the support of the band early on, and how special it was to play in the Red Rocks setting. They had an emotional thing going on in their set, and it was pretty electrifying.
And that other guy......Edwin McCain. He came armed with an acoustic guitar and a stool, and it proved to be more than enough to "wow" this music fan.
 
This venue is everything it's cracked up to be, and then some. If you get any kind of chance, make sure you get to some kind of performance at Red Rocks.
In other words, don't wait for the Spandau Ballet reunion tour. 
 
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REO Speedwagon setlist
 
Don't Let Him Go
Keep On Loving You
In Your Letter
Take It on the Run
Keep Pushin'
Golden Country
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
 
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Pat Benatar setlist
 
All Fired Up
Shadows Of The Night
If You Think You Know How To Love Me
Promises In The Dark
Invincible
You Better Run (Acoustic)
I Don't Wanna Be Your Friend (I Wanna Be Your Lover)
We Belong
Hell Is For Children
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Love Is A Battlefield
 
Encore:
Let's Stay Together
Heartbreaker


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