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May 29, 2005

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Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire ‘Make Me Smile’ in new DVD concert
By Ed Payne
Q: Take a rock ‘n’ roll band with horns, mix it with a mystical funk group and what do you get?
A: A sparkling new concert DVD combining the music of two classic horn bands—Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire “Live at the Greek Theatre.” (Shelf date: June 28, 2005)
In the show taped in high-definition at the conclusion of their 2004 summer tour, the two-band powerhouse has the Greek Theatre crowd on its feet for most of the three-plus-hour concert. The show was originally recorded for a pay-per-view concert that aired on cable systems in early 2005.
The two-disc DVD set opens with the groups hitting the stage en masse—complete with six horn players, two drummers, three percussionists, two bass players, three guitarists, et al., launching into Chicago’s “Beginnings.”
“When we open and both bands are on stage, people are like agog,” Chicago founding member and trumpet player Lee Loughnane said during the 2004 tour. “They’re like ‘oh my God, you guys really are playing together.’”
Putting two bands on stage at once is often a train wreck in the making. A muddy sound mix can plague the effort or whole sections of one band or the other get left out.
Instead listeners are treated to a sparkling mix and interplay among the horn players that only adds to the classic tunes. Clearly the sum is greater than the already exceptional parts.
Next is EWF’s majestic “In the Stone,” cross-pollinated with Chicago’s “Dialogue.” Like a club DJ, the bands somehow mix the two songs together with stunning results, using an a cappella bridge.
After some friendly banter—and a coin flip—between Chicago’s Robert Lamm and EWF’s Philip Bailey about who should play next, Chicago leaves the stage and Earth, Wind & Fire launches into a funk-filled set – mixing in classics like “Getaway,” “Boogie Wonderland,” and “That’s the Way of the World.”
Chicago’s Bill Champlin returns to the stage and takes over lead vocals on the EWF hit “After the Love is Gone” – a song he penned before he joined Chicago in the early ‘80s.
Given that a DVD mixes sight AND sound, EWF is the more entertaining band visually. Verdine White is a special effect in his own right, prompting some to call the lanky bassist the “Energizer Bunny” of the band. The man absolutely never stops moving.
Motown-like moves and cajoling of the audience to dance and sing along play into the party atmosphere that marks an EWF show.

Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire ‘Make Me Smile’ in new DVD concert
By Ed Payne
Q: Take a rock ‘n’ roll band with horns, mix it with a mystical funk group and what do you get?
A: A sparkling new concert DVD combining the music of two classic horn bands—Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire “Live at the Greek Theatre.” (Shelf date: June 28, 2005)
In the show taped in high-definition at the conclusion of their 2004 summer tour, the two-band powerhouse has the Greek Theatre crowd on its feet for most of the three-plus-hour concert. The show was originally recorded for a pay-per-view concert that aired on cable systems in early 2005.
The two-disc DVD set opens with the groups hitting the stage en masse—complete with six horn players, two drummers, three percussionists, two bass players, three guitarists, et al., launching into Chicago’s “Beginnings.”
“When we open and both bands are on stage, people are like agog,” Chicago founding member and trumpet player Lee Loughnane said during the 2004 tour. “They’re like ‘oh my God, you guys really are playing together.’”
Putting two bands on stage at once is often a train wreck in the making. A muddy sound mix can plague the effort or whole sections of one band or the other get left out.
Instead listeners are treated to a sparkling mix and interplay among the horn players that only adds to the classic tunes. Clearly the sum is greater than the already exceptional parts.
Next is EWF’s majestic “In the Stone,” cross-pollinated with Chicago’s “Dialogue.” Like a club DJ, the bands somehow mix the two songs together with stunning results, using an a cappella bridge.
After some friendly banter—and a coin flip—between Chicago’s Robert Lamm and EWF’s Philip Bailey about who should play next, Chicago leaves the stage and Earth, Wind & Fire launches into a funk-filled set – mixing in classics like “Getaway,” “Boogie Wonderland,” and “That’s the Way of the World.”
Chicago’s Bill Champlin returns to the stage and takes over lead vocals on the EWF hit “After the Love is Gone” – a song he penned before he joined Chicago in the early ‘80s.
Given that a DVD mixes sight AND sound, EWF is the more entertaining band visually. Verdine White is a special effect in his own right, prompting some to call the lanky bassist the “Energizer Bunny” of the band. The man absolutely never stops moving.
Motown-like moves and cajoling of the audience to dance and sing along play into the party atmosphere that marks an EWF show.
While the members of EWF are better entertainers than their counterparts in Chicago, both bands are peers musically. Earth, Wind & Fire are just more fun to watch.
Starting on disc two, Chicago powers its way through its own impressive catalogue of hits, stringing together “Make Me Smile,” “Colour My World,” “Saturday in the Park,” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” as part of its set – mostly focusing on their early hits.
“Let’s get lost in the 70s,” says keyboardist Robert Lamm to the cheers of the audience filled with graying baby boomers, as he introduces “Call on Me” and “Alive Again.”
The bands again swap vocalists on “If You Leave Me Now,” with Bailey and his soaring tenor making the ballad sound better than it has since Peter Cetera left Chicago two decades ago.
The two bands claim combined sales of more than 150-million records and albums. Both have collected their share of Grammies and American Music Awards. EWF was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
But despite their credentials, it is not a pairing that immediately evokes the same sort of “that’s a great idea” response as the “Piano Men” tours of Elton John and Billy Joel in past years did.
During their heydays in the 1970s, Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire were the yin and yang of the pop music world—both with dominant horn sections, but radically different approaches to their music.
When Chicago formed in the Windy City in 1967, members came together with the idea of being “The Beatles with horns.”
As Maurice White started pulling together EWF in 1969 – also in Chicago—his musical vision included Afro-centric themes, astrology and black pride wrapped around a tight funk base, spiced with hints of Motown and gospel.
The real fireworks of the concert come appropriately during the six-song encore – both bands fully energized and on stage together again. It’s an impressive closing set.
Trading hits, the tour de force powers through: “September,” “Free” with dueling sax solos by Chicago’s Walter Parazaider and EWF’s Gary Bias, “Singasong,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” “Shining Star” and a free-for-all version of “25 or 6 to 4,” with each of the three guitarists taking a turn on lead.
During last summer’s pairing, EWF drummer John Paris said, “We seem to bring out the best in each other.”
The chemistry is obvious as both bands, energized and challenged by each other, far outshine their previous DVD concert performances.
And the fans agree.
“There’s a reason bands like Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire are still around after all this time,” said Roberto Fernandez, who drove six-hours from Jacksonville, Fla. to see the July 11, 2004 show in Atlanta. “It’s called talent.”
The pairing was such a success that both bands will tour again together this summer, starting June 24 in Chicago and not wrapping up until late September.

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