We saw our first Chicago concert with our parents. Then we went with our wife.
Last night, we took our daughter to her first Chicago show at Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio. And it was just as memorable as we remember.
That’s the nature of Chicago’s timeless oeuvre. You won’t find the band (or any one of its nine members) on the cover of Rolling Stone or SPIN these days, but it feels like their music has always been around—and probably always will be, moving from one generation of listeners to the next via aural osmosis.
It hasn’t always been a “Saturday in the Park” for the Windy City hit makers, but they don’t dwell too much on the past. Rather, they concentrate on playing now, taking life one gig at a time and album by Roman-numbered album. They’ve had as much as attrition as any other long-standing musical unit (hello, Yes), but an influx of young blood every five years or so recharges their collective battery.
The core lineup hasn’t shifted since well before we were born: Singer / songwriter Robert Lamm is still on keyboards, and the horn section of Lee Loughnane (trumpet), Jimmy Pankow (trombone), and Walter Parazaider (sax) remains intact. Bassist / tenor Jason Scheff—who replaced Peter Cetera in 1985—has been on board nearly twice as long as his famous predecessor. Tris Imboden (CSN, Kenny Loggins) has been in the drum chair since the early ‘90s (replacing Danny Seraphine), and guitarist Keith Howland has a couple decades under his belt, too.
The “new” guys are Lou Pardini (Santana, Stevie Wonder)—who assumes the soulful vocals and keyboard parts formerly sang by the retired Bill Champlin (1981-2008)—and Walfredo Reyes, Jr. (Lindsey Buckingham) on percussion.
Ray Herrmann (Whitney Houston, Brian Setzer) stood in for Parazaider on sax and woodwinds at the Warren engagement. It’s the second time we’ve seen the sport-coated Herrmann with Chicago in less than a year, which raises some concern: Where’s Walt? Is there something the band isn’t telling us about their cofounder’s well-being?
That said, the L.A. based-Herrmann is a terrific addition, and he patrols Parazaider’s ground with both panache and cool-cat charisma, whether on soprano sax or flute.
The boys embark on another joint tour with Earth, Wind & Fire next month, with a date set for Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. But Sunday’s show was full-on Chicago for two-plus hours (with intermission).
The boys will be finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month at a ceremony in Brooklyn, New York, after decades of snubs by the electoral committee. They’ve been eligible for induction since 1994, and have watched from the sidelines as a parade of younger—and arguably lesser (commercially and creatively) acts received notice.
Apparently, Cetera—who went solo in 1986—won’t be on hand at Barclays Center. Some fans insist Cetera owes them and his former colleagues a reunion, if only for one night.
We respectfully disagree: Cetera owes it to himself to attend. His bass playing and stratospheric vocals shaped Chicago’s signature ‘70s sound, and his radio-ready writing (and collaborations with David Foster) helped the band transition for MTV audiences in the early ‘80s.
The news wasn’t lost on Lamm, who said it will be nice “leaving a part of Chicago in Ohio in a permanent basis.”
Regardless of who turns up for honors April 8th, it’s pleasing to know this ensemble will no longer be ignored by the Rock Hall’s tastemakers and power brokers. Fans like those faithful in attendance last night at Packard Hall have always appreciated Chicago’s muscular mix of fusion, funk and power pop, and value the legacy still being written by its virtuoso musicians.
After all, Chicago has—for forty-plus years—provided the soundtrack of their lives.
Kicking off with Chicago Transit Authority manifesto “Introduction” and “Questions 67 & 68,” the guys set a brisk pace at Packard, barreling into 1972’s “Dialogue” (from Chicago V—the LP with the wood carving on the sleeve). Lamm greeted the audience by rocking on front-and-center on a keytar as the horn contingent shuffled to-and-fro, their brass glistening in the spotlights. Scheff fielded Cetera’s vocals on the airy “If You Leave Me Now” (from Chicago X, the chocolate bar album) and up-tempo Hot Streets entry “Alive Again” (an homage to late guitarist Terry Kath, who died in 1978)
Howland doffed his sport coat early for maximum comfort (in a sleeveless tee) when soloing on his pink Fender Stratocaster and (later) jade Tom Anderson guitar. He strummed a 12-string acoustic for “Leave Me Now,” and his classical guitar solo went well with blue-suited Loughnane’s French horn passages. Lamm restored to a T-shirt later, too.
It was warm in the arena, and we noticed Pankow—who already had his shirt unbuttoned and collar “popped” for action—mouthing “Man, it’s hot!” to the guitarist.
Lamm led the charge on his own “Wake Up Sunshine,” which featured more fancy finger work from Howland, an upper-range backup vocal by Scheff, and a fun trombone solo by Pankow. “Call On Me” (from Chicago VIII, with the red cardinal sleeve) went to Pardini, and saw plenty of percussion finesse by Reyes. Wilfredo used orchestral mallets to make his cymbals sing on “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” (from Chicago VII, the leather cut album) and—along with Imboden—laid some rumba rhythms on the instrumental “Mongonucleosis” as Pankow, Loughnane, and Herrmann blared the Latino-flavored leitmotifs (and horn solos).
A semi-acoustic medley mid-set gave certain players some respite while smaller, breakout groups performed: Scheff accompanied himself on piano for a gorgeous “Will You Still Love Me;” Lamm used the same piano on the urban samba “Another Rainy Day in New York City” (with Howland on 12-string and Reyes on congas); and Pardini delivered Chicago 19’s “Look Away” as a solo ballad (at least until the final chorus, when the others returned to the stage).
Pankow’s masterful “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” suite (from Chicago II), steered the band’s principal singers through a vocal round-robin, and its horn players indulged in some splendid interplay. Pardini handled vocals on “Make Me Smile,” then deferred to Lamm for the loping “So Much to Say” segment. Loughnane and Herrmann decorated the Zappa-esque “Anxiety’s Moment” and “West Virginia Fantasies” with beefy trumpet and breezy flute excursions. Loughnane fielded Kath’s tender “Colour My World” vocal, then the entire troupe reappeared and locked up for a spirited “Now More Than Ever” reprise.
Act II began with a guitar-laden “Old Days,” which capitalized on Howland’s fuzz tones, while “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” let Lamm shine anew. Scheff and Pardini recreated the Cetera / Champlin matchup for the Diane Warren ballad “Hard Habit to Break.” Returning to 1969, Lamm and Howland jangled acoustics on the hopeful “Beginnings” as Hermmann gestured for revelers to take up the “Whoa, oh, oh” refrain.
The guys got funky on Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man,” which encapsulated a frenetic (and funny) drum duel by Imboden and Reyes, who copied one another’s wild stick moves as the crowd clapped along. The showcase segued into the disco-fueled “Street Player” (from 1979’s Chicago 13, with the neon skyscraper), whose pulsating groove was set to a flickering disco ball and Technicolor lights on the video backdrop.
Scheff delivered an emotional “Just You ‘n’ Me,” which boasted a clarinet run by Herrmann and some triangle ornamentation by Reyes. “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” came complete with its revved-up instrumental coda (“Get Away”), and “Saturday in the Park” saw Lamm pound out the mirthful chords on his Yamaha Motif.
And yes, it felt like the 4th of July…even if it was late February.
We’re sure the crowd could’ve left sated after celebratory finale “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” but Chicago obliged with an encore that packed Chicago III’s “Free” alongside Chicago II’s trippy “25 or 6 to 4.”
Loughnane made a point of thanking the Warren contingent for their continued support:
“We’re still here because of you,” the trumpeter said. “Without you, we’re just rehearsing!”
All told, the group hit on just about every studio album (including the recent XXXVI) save Chicago XI (1977), Chicago XIV (1980), Chicago Twenty-1 (1991), and Chicago XXX (2006). Not a bad sampling of tunes, given the quantity (and quality) of material to choose from.
If you haven’t seen Chicago yet, do so at your earliest opportunity.
Iowa-bred songwriter Tim Stop opened the show with four or five tunes from his albums Across the Atlantic and Songs of Separation.
Stop opened by playing acoustic guitar on the haunting “London,” but spent the rest of his time seated at an electric piano, stabbing out bright, Elton John-like chords and fills with ease—but enthusiasm, as on “Perfect Fool.”
Stop said he barely made the show (he overslept) but was grateful for the chance to be supporting Chicago. He also said he empathized with early-arrivers, who didn’t know there’d be a warm-up.
Fortunately, there’s a strong, friendly, Richard Marx quality to Stop’s voice, arrangements, and execution. He’s a capable strummer and gifted keyboardist whose original songs and jazzy covers (like his take on Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel”) should make a splash with AC consumers of Hall & Oates, Billy Joel, Jewel, and Sarah McLachlan.