July 24, 2015
Gexa Energy Pavilion
Dallas, TX USA
Review by Justin Press
Photos by Terry Walsh
1970's Super Groups Continue To Amaze
Chicago and Earth Wind & Fire, two of the elite and highest-selling of the pre and post-FM could have easily a) hung it up years ago and lived off royalties or b) phoned in the hits with little to show for it other than making the call. However, both seasoned bands gave a magnificent performance last night at the Gexa Energy Pavilion in Dallas, Texas for 15,000 even as the temperatures hit triple digits. (4) Sets and 3.5 hours worth of number one hits, R&B crown jewels and jazz rock fusion was more than one could've asked for.
Opening with a brief pairing of the two acts, all 20 members colluded with Chicago's "Beginnings" and EWF's "In The Stone" just to grease the wheels prior to the Philip Bailey led R&B legends boogied their way thru a seamless performance that included a multi-tiered stage, LED screens, video projections, fog machines and the effervescent styling's of iconic bass player Verdine White, a human inferno of good will and bass rumblings equal to the Stanley Clarke's of the world.
Bailey, White and vocalist Ralph Johnson make up the core of the group as the remaining original members but they were surrounded with world-class players to round out the group. Especially on point were Bailey's son, Philip Bailey and co-vocalist David Whitworth who not only added spot on vocals but also a ton of frantic energy that kept pace with the music. Also to note was drummer John Paris whose fills and rhythms held everything in check.
Opening with "Boogie Wonderland" the multi-ethnic crowd ate it up from note one as the jukebox of 1970's and 80's classics came in rapid succession as "Serpentine Fire," "Devotion" and the caressing beauty of "That's The Way Of The World" and "After The Love Has Gone" replete with images of the Seventies EWF were projected with Maurice White holding center court. The brilliant take on The Beatles "Got To Get You Into My Life" had the same energy it did when the Fab Four displayed their own funky soul chops from 1966. The dance rave that is "Let's Groove" really turned the crowd out and those waiting for "September" and "Shining Star" had to wait until the encore, would Chicago make it worth the wait? Regardless, EWF proved that though members have come and gone, the core of this act is the songs and the execution and both were bull's eye shots, talk about relevant. Earth Wind & Fire are the future.
Chicago was just given the monumental task of following blistering hits packed set by their tour mates. You have to be on your 'A' game just to even come close. Thankfully their catalog is so deep and the musicianship is so vast that at the tale of the tape, it's a dead draw. Led by Robert Lamm, the 9-piece soul, pop, rock, jazz and blues band laid out a road map to their ever-changing career. "Dialogue Part I & II" and ‘Questions 67 & 68" got us in the mood as they revisited their debut and Chicago II. "Make Me Smile" sung by keyboardist Lou Pardini was spread across the landscape as "Colour My World" sequenced in before coming back to Smile with transitions as smooth as Autobahn lane changing.
The 80's were vastly kind to Chicago as they were able to piggy back the power balled era with their own AM radio flavored gems as bass player, vocalist Jason Scheff is capable of nailing Peter Cetera's heart wrenching approach to "Hard Habit To Break" (which with enough guitars could've been a Whitesnake track) and the schmaltz of "You're the Inspiration," a bit bubble gum but there were enough ladies in the crowd to justify its inclusion in the set though "If You Leave Me Now" or "Baby What A Big Surprise" bury it. "Just You N Me" brought us back to our 70's basement record players with the marvelous horn section led by Ray Herrmann took us to a better time.
"Street Player" along with the Spencer Davis Group's "I'm A Man" were rousing in that city of Chicago kind of way, at times sounding like their West Coast counterpart Santana, all free form jazz rock with rousing choruses. "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" snuck us back into our big hair and shoulder pad double-breasted suits sans the schlock, have to say they really tried to sell this songs hard this evening. With a stack of hits so en-grained in the fans psyche one would hope that they'd dust off "Old Days" or "No Tell Lover," but as soon as the mind wanders there they drop "Call On Me" and "Saturday In The Park" on the audience and it's a little slice of summertime heaven. Lamm really shone on "Park" having not lost any range in his voice all these years later. Chicago might have meandered off the reservation from time to time during the set but they closed "Feeling Stronger Everyday" ironically. With their set in the can, now the really good stuff was about to come to live as both bands were set to deliver their combined encores.
20 players and 6 vocals reconstructed EWF's "September" and it was near studio quality, as was "Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Was," a strolling number that was custom-made for lazy weekends and daydreaming. "Sing A Song" and "Free" were aptly detailed but it was Earth Wind & Fire's clarion call "Shining Star" that tore up the floor. Rows and rows of otherwise reasonable people were dancing like it was prom night 1977; drunk, stoned and full of life. "You're a Shining Star... no matter who you are," a motif that rings true when it comes to rejoicing in the music.
Not ones to go quietly into the night Chicago used the energy of the ensemble to clear the road with "25 Or 6 to 4." It's close as they'll ever get to being a rock band in its most common terms with its opening riff and accelerated rhythms. It was the only way you could have finished off the evening, full of flourish and fervor. For guys ranging from 40-60+ years of age, the entire concert was a cultural retreat for those of us in the generation who grew up with these bands as the soundtracks to our youth. 1975 or 2015, it didn't matter, the bands transported us for a brief time to a place in our hearts and minds that never age or ever disease, we were just young, footloose and fancy free, at least until we got back to our cars.