It's the Spring of 1971. I'm a freshman in college. A group of us have made a half hour road trip to Oklahoma City to see the rock band Chicago play at the Civic Center Auditorium. The concert came to a halt near the halfway point of the performance. A bomb threat was called in and they were clearing out the theater. Less than an hour later, it was all clear. Everyone was let back in. The show rocked on!
Peter Cetera – bass, vocals
Terry Kath – guitar, vocals
Robert Lamm – keyboards, vocals
Lee Loughnane – trumpet, flugelhorn
James Pankow – trombone
Walter Parazaider – saxophones, flute
Danny Seraphine – drums
These guys were the original members of Chicago, which was formed in 1967. Back then you didn't see rock bands with a dedicated horn section. The combination of the brass along with Terry Kath's guitar gave them an edge you didn't find elsewhere. The music of these seven men, combined with a bomb threat, made that night in Oklahoma City memorable. For years afterwards, I considered it the best concert I've ever seen.
It all changed for Chicago on January 23, 1978. Kath was messing around with a gun he thought was unloaded. He placed it up to his head and pulled the trigger. He was killed immediately. Terry Kath was only thirty-one years old. It was the day Chicago lost it's edge.
In the 1980's, the focal point of the band changed. The songs of Peter Cetera came to to forefront. Instead of guitar-based tunes, the band gave us a ton of cheesy ballads. Sure, they attracted a new audience and made the group a lot of money, but the Chicago I loved in the early days was gone forever.
Welcome to the Chicago of 2019. The band is still hitting the road. They've never stopped performing. This is their fifty-second year of touring. Most of the original members are gone...long gone. Kath in 78, Cetera in 85, Seraphine in 90 and Parazaider in 2017. They've all been replaced. In fact, their replacements have been replaced. In the band Chicago, the members keep changing, but the music, both live and in the studio, keeps playing.
Chicago has come to its hometown for two nights of gigs at the suburban Ravinia Festival. It's far from a new venue for the band. They've played their numerous times over their five-plus decades of touring. My questions going in were:
. Are these guys really Chicago or are they just another cover band?
. Will they be worth the high price of tickets to see them?
I've asked the same questions of other well known bands who have changed numerous members...mainly the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. My answer has been, "yeah...why not...I guess so...maybe...I Don't Know!" It bothered me a little seeing Vince Gill singing Glenn Frey's Eagles tune, but I got over it. It bothered me more seeing Fleetwood Mac replace Lindsey Buckingham, but I'm over that one, too.
So, was I going to be happy to pay almost $50 to sit on the lawn and listen to this version of Chicago? What about the folks who ponied up more than twice that to sit in the pavillion?
It all comes down to the songs. They have a twenty-six song set list that has plenty of their very early tunes, along with the ballads. More than a little something to make all their fans happy. The highlights of the more than two hour performance include "Introduction", "Questions 67 & 68" and "I'm a Man" from their first album. "Just You & Me"and "You're the Inspiration" were highlights from the ballad era. An excellent version of "25 or 6 to 4" ended the show.
As for the band itself, they have a single guitarist, Keith Howland. He's been with the band since 1994. He's pretty good, but he's not Terry Kath....very few are. They've added a couple of strings for the live show. The violin and viola makes the sound fuller and is a pleasant touch. The vocals are okay. It amazes me how they find guys who sound almost exactly Peter Cetera. I can only imagine what the audition process is like. The best part of Chicago remains the horn section. The guys are still great and still gives the band what has always been their unique sound.
So to answer the question about is Chicago worth the price of admission. Yes, just the songs themselves made it worth the fifty. Was it anywhere close to being as good as that show back in 1971? NOPE....not even close. Sadly, we'll never see that again.
Related Post: Chicago is finally in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
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