St. Louis got plenty of soul, heart, and shattered ear drums from Earth, Wind & Fire/Chicago’s August 31 performance at the Maryland Heights Hollywood Casino Amphitheater.
There’s a feeling, a goal, all music listeners, or might I say appreciators, reach for when listening to a musical performance. Some go for a good time of easy listening, others to get drunk and lose themselves to whatever debauchery that might unfold. I go to concerts — and listen to music in general — for the off chance that the performer will either:
1. Give me goosebumps.
2. Force me to jump up and actually participate. *Those that know me know this is more important.
Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago’s Heart and Soul Tour stop in St. Louis achieved both of these goals. EWF, in particular, brought the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater to its feet. And, when your audience’s bed time average is 9:00, that’s saying something. Jokes aside, since this was a co-headliner tour, I’m going to split this review into two sections. Like hell if I’m going to bring them out together; that was a disaster in itself.
Yikes, spoiler alert!
Earth, Wind & Fire
From the get go, Ralph Johnson, Verdine White, Phillip Bailey and company brought out everything Earth, Wind & Fire were — and are currently — known for. People came to dance. And dance they did, grooving to hits and so on and so forth. I could go on and on with a track by track review, but why do that when I can analyze the technical nonsense? You know, the performance itself!
Stage wise, there was a lot going on: stage screens, psychedelic/Egyptian graphics, horns, multiple drum kits. When overused, such an abundance of showmanship threatens disenchantment; however, the flash never took away from the tracks, only heightened them. For instance, “Reasons” commanded full attention to Bailey’s soul crushing falsetto. With just the right touch of atmospheric stars on the jumbotrons, his high reaches — because, let’s face it, that’s what we were all waiting for — burst through with maximum impact. Beautiful, simply beautiful. Remember what I said about goosebumps?
Each member brought energy to the table, contrary to the following act, but we’ll get to that in a moment. As soon as “In The Stone[‘s]” horns throttled the venue’s speakers, a spotlight shone on the silver tree that is Verdine White. Nothing, not Chicago, not even Earth and Wind could bring attention away from Earth’s rumble. Did I just make that up? Either way, Verdine is one of the more underrated bassists out there. Sure, he’s not the most versatile or virtuostic soloist, but hits “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” and most definitely, “Fantasy” would sound like Eagle’s outtakes without White’s defining groove. There was enough synchronized spinning, dancing, horn blares, harmonies, and sequins to please even the dullest eye. Shit, that was probably me.
Fun. That’s how I will define Earth, Wind & Fire’s set. By the time “Let’s Groove” thumped along, the whole amphitheater was on its feet. I haven’t seen that much excitement at that venue since…well, Iron Maiden. Okay, gotta move on!
And then…there was Chicago. I enjoy the occasional “25 or 6 to 4,” whatever the hell that means, and “Saturday In the Park” every once in a while. However, I can only get enough of the horn gimmick before I start to roll my eyes. And Lord, did Chicago jam their horns down the audience’s throat. Damn, and they played their “inspiration” love songs? Double damn! Trombonist, James Pankow was pretty freakin’ awesome, though. I mean, who doesn’t want to see a trombonist center stage, ripping away like a lead guitarist? If any of EWF’s energy translated into Chicago’s set, Pankow delivered through his sways, fist pumps, and general fun loving stage presence. Chicago sat comfortably in their hit catalog, performing a wide array of balladry and face slapping rock anthems, while firmly holding a more intimate, less showy atmosphere. In this regard, the band brought full attention to their music, creating room for improvisation and complexity to their already complex repertoire. They even displayed a heavier sound, courtesy of guitarist Keith Howland.
Yet, it is in this heavier sound that I was left wondering if Chicago’s creative drive reached a crossroads. I hate to single out anyone, but Keith Howland’s shreddery and abrasiveness made absolutely no musical sense whatsoever. Why? Why noodle away to “You’re the Inspiration” like it’s — expletive coming! — a Van Halen fuck track? “Inspiration” is for lovemaking, not beer, cigarettes, and hotels. Is that a song? Not to mention Howland’s sound level ascended with each track. By the time Chicago monster, “25 or 6 to 4” started, the guitar sound reached painful levels, ultimately detracting from the overall sound because, instead of dancing, the audience members were holding their ears. Let me put it this way. Chicago and EWF both appeared on stage to close out the night with their most famous hits. I could hear two things:
2. Howland’s Goddamn guitar
This is inexcusable when there’s 20+ performers on stage. Overall, Chicago’s strategy originally adopted a “calm before the storm” approach. Yet, guitar led Chicago — yeah, kind of an oxymoron — brought too much storm on an already flooded audience.
It’s pretty crazy that I can say the loudest concert I’ve been to is Chicago. Either way, solid performances from all involved. Although Earth, Wind & Fire commanded the evening, Chicago provided enough musical exploration — kudos, drum and percussion soloists! — to keep the audience’s interest peeked for the encore. Hell, I’ll admit it. The horns were pretty cool afterall.
Okay, I can’t help asking again. Who shreds to Chicago songs? I’m making this a written rule. Unless it’s “25 or 6 to 4” you just don’t shred to Chicago songs.
EARTH, WIND & FIRE RATING: 5/5
CHICAGO RATING: 2.5/5
Disclaimer: All rights, content, and properties of header image belong to its owner. Image found at http://banksartscentre.com/event/chicago-the-band-earth-wind-fire/. All rights, content, and properties of body image 1 belong to its owner. Image found at http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/earth-wind-fire-liverpool-arena-7214417. All rights, content, and properties of body image 2 belong to its owner. Image found at http://music.newcity.com/2011/08/23/old-days-the-band-chicago-returns-to-ravinia-properly-matured/. I have, in no way, used said images for profit.