In pop music, the hook is what keeps you on stage, not what drags you off. R.E.O. Speedwagon, the rock quintet that drew close to 20,000 fans to the Capital Centre on Saturday night, has mastered the hook after 10 years of mixing and matching its skills and ambitions. The group's 11th album, "Hi InFidelity," has held the No. 1 spot on the country's sales charts for five weeks, fixed in place by a No. 1 single, "Keep On Loving You."

On Saturday, R.E.O. made it all look easy, tagging their precise, hard rock with subtle melodic sensibility. Charismatic lead singer Kevin Cronin has a voice that is fluid and assured, allowing him to overcome a tendency to talk too much with energetic realizations of hits like the soft-spun "Time for Me to Fly," the more anxious energies of "Ridin' the Storm Out," "Roll with the Changes" and varied offerings off their new album. The band itself displayed impressive technical skills, particularly guitarist Gary Richrath, who managed for the most part to control dexterity in favor of powerful, brief leads and thoughtful fills.

Although there is a deliberate sexist stance in R.E.O.'s rock passion -- what else now? -- the band connects more meaningfully via its equally deliberate "poptimism." R.E.O. sings about feelin' good, not feelin' alone, the solidarity of youth. Delivering the message in a rock format doesn't obscure its purpose as an encouraging and steadying influence on those initial steps across the bridge between adolescence and adulthood. the band is also fortunate that they can deliver such a message C.O.D.