And to think, I hesitated.
For about forty-five minutes after the offer was made to take a free ticket and go see the band I grew up loving and Chicago, a group that I also enjoyed, I hesitated. Yes, a free ticket. Why? I think it had a bit to do with my own nostalgia. The Earth, Wind & Fire I grew up loving is no more; many of the band members that I knew the names of were gone and Maurice White, the band’s leader who had stopped touring due to Parkinson’s disease, passed away. In my mind, no show by a band named Earth, Wind & Fire in 2016 could possibly be authentic.
Then I woke up, and took that ticket. And was I ever glad that I did.
The lights dimmed and the show was about to begin. The opening notes of Chicago’s hit “Beginnings” rang out and the crowd began to roar. Once both bands had taken the stage, the roar increased in intensity. And when Robert Lamm opened his mouth with the first words of the song, I was singing along and not even thinking about whatever mixed emotions I might have had seeing a “diminished” group. By the time Philip Bailey of EW&F began singing the second verse, any misgivings I might have had began to ebb away. And hearing both horn sections go to town on the song was a sight (and sound) to behold.
But it was when the bands transitioned to the opening horn lines of EW&F’s “In The Stone” that’s when all the misgivings went away. In that moment, I was that thirteen year-old kid, waiting for V-103 (WXYV-FM out of Baltimore in those days) to play the I Am album in its entirety so that I could record it on my cassette player. And at that point, my emotions began to swell up, as I realized that no matter who was on the stage at the moment, it was still Earth, Wind & Fire. Those were the same songs. And they sounded every bit as good as I could, or would have expected.
With a show that packed a ton of hits into three and a half hours, there were many highlights. Hearing both bands run through the likes of “Dialogue (Parts 1 & 2),” “Yearnin’ Learnin’,” “September,” “Doesn’t Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “Sing A Song” and “25 Or 6 To 4,” along with the aforementioned songs above was great. Then watching EW&F tear through the likes of the “Power/Africano” medley, “Boogie Wonderland,” “Jupiter,” “Serpentine Fire” (with vintage video of Maurice White leading the 1977 version of the band through the song), “Let’s Groove,” “After The Love Has Gone,” “Fantasy” and “Devotion” was all I needed. And I danced through large chunks of the show. If you’ve ever heard the album Gratitude, the live album Earth, Wind & Fire released at the tail end of 1975, some of the songs sounded much like they did on that album all those years ago. And when they did “Reasons,” Bailey proved that even at his advanced age, he can still hit the high notes. Boy, could he ever!
Chicago was just as good, giving us “Saturday In The Park,” “Call On Me,” Just You ‘N’ Me,” “I’m A Man,” “Feeling Stonger Every Day,” “Streetplayer,” and of course, the 80s ballads “Hard Habit To Break,” “Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry,” and “You’re The Inspiration.” They even dusted off the complete Ballad For A Girl In Buchannon suite, which contained the hits “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World.” With Lamm, Jason Scheff, Lou Pardini and even Lee Loughnane singing leads, and those horns, they were in fine form throughout the night.
At the end of the show, I joked with my friends that it was worth every penny, even as I didn’t even pay for the ticket. The truth is, I would have paid to see this show; it was just that good.