Saturday, November 11, 2006

Concert Review: ***Chicago: Live at the Peoria Civic Center*** November 8, 2006

For all you poker players who actually have some recollection of the 1960's and 1970's, the name of the band Chicago undoubtedly brings you memories of songs infused with passionate singing, jazzy musicianship and great horn playing, but also some slow ballads oozing sugar from the radio straight to your ears. Thus, we have a collective memory of a band that made its mark by infusing musicianship into rock songs, then dumbing down its music into pop hits, then disappearing into the land of irrelevant bands. I last saw Chicago in concert in 1984. It was an excellent show. So how good could a Chicago concert be today? In short, pretty good.

The current line up of Chicago features original keyboardist Robert Lamm, the great original horn section of James Pankow, Walt Parazaider, and Lee Loughnane (worth every cent to see), drummer Tris Imboden, organist Bill Champlin, guitarist Keith Howland, and bass player and singer Jason Scheff. Long gone are bass player and lead vocalist Peter Cetera, drummer Danny Seraphine, and soulful singer and guitarist Terry Kath. Imboden certainly fills the bill for Seraphine, but the loss of Cetera and Kath make for the only negative aspect of the current band. There is just no replacing Kath's heartfelt vocals and Cetera's strong tenor lead.

How do you cover almost 40 years of songs in a two-hour set? Well, Chicago gave us its best shot, touching briefly on songs from its new CD, Chicago XXX, cruising through some of their best ballads from the 1980's, and, thankfully, loading the concert with some of their best old material. While old stand bys like 26 or 6 to 4, Questions 67 and 68, So Much to Say; So Much to Give, and Make Me Smile were supurb, I was amazed at how a band of "old guys" could kick ass on a song like I'm a Man.

Beginnings has always been at the top of my favorites list, and I found myself fighting back tears as I heard Robert Lamm sing the song that fueled probably thousands of prom themes across the country. Make no mistake: Lamb and James Pankow are probably the most talented popular music song writers of the last half century, behind John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

James Pankow made for a fun night. His showmanship was superb, and he gave me the chance to repeat a story my wife has heard many times. Pankow attended Quincy College (now Quincy University) for one year before transfering to DePaul University. His old Q.C. music instructor, Charlie Winking, taught my Music Appreciation class. Charlie delighted in telling us that Pankow was an okay trombone player, but was told many times by the great professor,"Concentrate on your composition. That is your strength." Of course, Colour My World, Make Me Smile, (I've Been) Searchin' So Long, Old Days, Just You 'N' Me, etc show us that Charlie definitely knew his shit!

Pankow also provided for a few chuckles after my wife, Susan, and I got home from the concert. Susan commented on how Pankow needs to not be wearing boxer shorts when he performs on stage. My response: "I wasn't looking at his schlong." This conversation was overheard by my 12 year old son, Rick. A few minutes later when I was alone in the kitchen, Rick came by with the biggest smirk in the world on his face and said, "Dad, how does it feel to know that Mom was looking at another guy's schlong?"

Sitting in the second row to watch a concert has its advantages, especially when half the front row, for some odd reason, was empty. We were able to connect with the band and shake hands with a few members during and after the concert, and I was able to score a pick from Keith Howland. In the old days, I would have snatched the pick out of the air with my lightning speed. Now, however, I had to settle for it hitting my face and dropping into the empty chair in front of me, where I pounced upon it.

Concert Highlight: Robert Lamm coming from the back of the stage with a portable keyboard and playing the opening riff of Saturday in the Park. Has there ever been a catchier, bouncier feel good pop tune?

Concert Lowlight: Vocals substituting for those of Peter Cetera and Terry Kath. Jason Scheff has been with the band for a hell of a long time, but no one can croon like Peter Cetera.

My recommendation: If Chicago is coming to your area and you are a fan of old, do whatever you have to do to see them. The concert will be money well spent.


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