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Roll with the changes: Rockers REO Speedwagon, Styx keep on coming back

REO Speedwagon members in 1988 included (from left): Neal Doughty, Bruce Hall, Gary Richrath, Kevin Cronin and Alan Gratzer. Promotional photo from the DNT archives1 / 5
This newspaper clipping is from the News Tribune on March 27, 1983, two days before REO Speedwagon played a show in Duluth.2 / 5
In this undated publicity photo, members of REO Speedwagon included (from left): Jesse Harms, Neal Doughty, Kevin Cronin, Bruce Hall, Dave Amato and Graham Lear.3 / 5
Amberlith masking film covers the image of REO Speedwagon band members in this advertisement that ran in the News Tribune in 1983. Seats that year were selling for $12 general admission to the Duluth Arena.4 / 5
REO Speedwagon in 1983 included (from left): Alan Gratzer, Neal Doughty, Kevin Cronin, Gary Richrath and Bruce Hall. Publicity photo from Epic5 / 5

In 40 years of rock 'n' roll music, through lineup changes, aesthetic buffing, popularity shifts and, in some cases, experimentation — here is a constant: Both Styx and REO Speedwagon have continued to make periodic tour stops in Duluth.

REO Speedwagon's first show here was in 1974 — relatively pre-fame, alongside ZZ Top and Dr. Hook. They returned in 1978, 1983 and 1988.

Styx played the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in 1977 alongside Rush, and returned the following year with Eddie Money.

Then the seemingly unthinkable happened: The bands, once considered rivals in the same puffy-haired, pretty-voiced, slow-dance bait scene, toured together in 2002. They riffed on their rep and called it the Arch Allies Tour.

It changed the game forever.

"We love touring with Styx and always look forward to seeing them," Kevin Cronin, frontman for REO Speedwagon, told the Chicago Tribune in a recent email interview. "Our bands have such a special connection. Back in the '80s there was this perceived competition ..."

Now, he said, they are the best of friends.

Styx and REO Speedwagon play at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Amsoil Arena. Tickets start at $29.50 and are available at Ticketmaster outlets including the DECC box office and ticketmaster.com.

WHO ARE THESE OLD-TIMERS YOUR PARENTS (GRANDPARENTS?) ARE DRAGGING YOU TO SEE

REO Speedwagon is rock 'n' roll band that formed in the midwest in the late 1960s, but blew up in the 1980s with song after song about love as a sole life mission ("Keep on Loving You"), love that cannot be stifled ("Can't Fight This Feeling"), broken love that triggers the gossip hounds ("Take it on the Run"). The band's most recent album, "Not so Silent Night ... Christmas with REO Speedwagon" features classic snowy tunes and was released in 2009.

REO had about a five-year head start on Styx, which was also bred in the Midwest. The rock band is behind big, pretty earnest hits like "Lady," "Come Sail Away" and "Don't Let it End this Way." Around the mid-1980s, they began experimenting with concept albums and epic rock opera sounds. Cue: "Mr. Roboto."

HEY KID GET OFF MY LAWN

In 1983, the News Tribune's arts and entertainment reporter wrote about REO Speedwagon's shift from a band that sometimes had a heavy metal lean, to a band that found an acoustic guitar, shined up its sound, and settled in to an aesthetic favored by other bands that came of age in the late-1970s. And while it helped the band's album sales, old burns still burned.

"We've taken a lot of flack from the Rolling Stone press, the supposedly hip media on the coasts," Cronin told the News Tribune at the time. "It's really dumb because their criticism is that you can't tell a Journey song from a Foreigner song from an REO song. When I hear that, it sounds like my parents back in '65 talking about the Beatles and The Dave Clark Five and The Who.

"I think these critics are just dating themselves."

KEVIN CRONIN STATUS

REO Speedwagon canceled dates in January and February while lead singer and rhythm guitarist Cronin had "a routine procedure, which is so simple it could be performed by a robot," according to a statement to fans.

The rerouted tour kickoff starts today in Joliet, Ill., marking his first time performing on stage post-procedure — which he described as going off seamlessly. He was never in any life-threatening danger, he said.

"As the years pass, certain parts need to be repaired," he told the Chicago Tribune in an email interview in mid-February.

DON'T LET IT END THIS WAY

Styx hit its apex in the early to mid-1980s and after the rock-opera-esque "Kilroy Was Here" was released, the band splintered. Since then, original members have come-gone-come again. There have been reunions and, bigger yet, there has been music. Slowly. Styx released the concept album "The Mission" in 2017 — 14 years after its last album of original material, "Cyclorama." "The Mission" fared best on Swiss charts, peaking at 34. It was kept a secret from much of the band in its early stages, Tommy Shaw told Billboard.com.

"The idea of me coming to everybody else and saying, 'Look, (collaborator) Will (Evankovitch) and I have an idea for us to do an album about a mission to Mars' wasn't something I could confidently go in and talk about."

UP NEXT

After this tour, both Styx and REO Speedwagon will continue to play with bands their own age. The former is spending the summer with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, and the latter is taking up with Chicago.

IF YOU GO

What: REO Speedwagon and Styx

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Amsoil Arena

Tickets: Start at $29.50 at Ticketmaster outlets including the DECC box office and ticketmaster.com

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