REO Speedwagon: Setlist – The Very Best Of

The rocking live side of REO Speedwagon

The Legacy division of Sony continues to explore new ways to keep the CD relevant. Their Playlist series was the first out of the gate with eco-friendly packaging that used 100% recycled cardboard, no plastic, and on-disc PDFs in place of paper booklets. Their new Setlist series follows the same path of a single disc that provides an aficionado’s snapshot of an artist’s catalog. In this case the anthologies turn from the studio to the stage, pulling together tracks from an artist’s live repertoire, generally all previously released, but in a few cases adding previously unreleased items. As with the Playlist collections, the Setlist discs aren’t greatest hits packages; instead, they forgo some obvious catalog highlights to give listeners a chance to hear great, lesser-known songs from the artist’s stage act.

REO Speedwagon’s entry in this series is really geared to fans, rather than as an overview of the band’s live recordings. Half the tracks (2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14) are previously unreleased performances stretching from 1980 through 1987, and though the band’s two chart toppers (“Keep on Loving You” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling”) are included, the song list relies more on fan and concert favorites, such as “Like You Do,” “Keep Pushin’” and “Golden Country,” that weren’t released as singles. The band’s signature, “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” is offered here in an excellent previously unissued 1981 performance recorded at Denver’s McNichols Arena. The seven previously issued tracks are drawn from the band’s 1976 U.S. tour (3, 4, 7, 13) as documented on Live: You Get What You Play For, and mid-80s to early-90s performances (1, 9, 11) drawn from The Second Decade Of Rock And Roll 1981 To 1991.

As much as the power ballad “Keep on Lovin’ You” has defined REO Speedwagon for casual listeners, their earlier albums were built on a foundation of blue collar Midwest rock rather than the studio pop of their breakthrough hits. You can hear the difference in direction between the 1976 and post-1980 sides, but what’s really noticeable is the decline in spark of the 1990s performances. The producers have done a nice job of cross-fading the audience response, segueing tracks from disparate times and places into a surprisingly seamless (and perhaps overly relentless) concert experience. It’s remains puzzling why the band didn’t better document their live performances at the time of their early-80s prime, and though this set helps fill in the picture, the great ‘80s REO Speedwagon live album still remains to be released commercially. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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