Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Chicago Live at The Sovereign Center, Reading PA, November 26, 2003

The World's greatest horn band took the stage at 8PM on Thanksgiving Eve and played for 2 full hours. Chicago, who began recording in 1969, still has four original members: singer and keyboard player Robert Lamm, and the horn section of Jim Pankow on trombone, Lee Loughnane on trumpet, and Walter Parazaider on saxes and flute.

All I have to say is this: During most of the 80s recording sessions the horns may have been locked in the trunk of a car they once drove but today, on stage, they are the dominant presence. They make sure you know it is their band because that is the way it is supposed to be. The exuberance of the horns, who were front and center on the stage, and guitarist Keith Howland who was situated on the far left, was obvious. Keith was throwing roses to the crowd. Bassist Jason Scheff who was on the far right of the horns was much more serious throughout the evening. The risers in back had Bill Champlin's bank of keyboards on the left. Tris Imboden's drum kit in the middle of the risers had a specially designed bass drum head for Christmas and Lamm was on the far right with one set of electric keys. No keytar for Mr. Lamm at this point. It wouldn't be until more than half way through the middle of the show that he got up from his electric keys to play the keytar.

The evening began with each member being introduced individually to the pre-recorded intro to "We Can Stop The Hurtin." They immediately broke into the late Terry Kath's "Introduction" playing only the first half of the song which sequed very nicely into "Questions 67 & 68." Both were played very closely to the original versions but were standout performances.

Next came a perfect "Dialogue" sung so well by Bill & Jason that I didn't miss Kath and Peter Cetera at all.

The first Christmas song came next as Robert sang a nice version of "Winter Wonderland."

"If You Leave Me Now" followed and trust me on this gang. They don't need Peter. Keith makes it his own song. I much prefer the ballads done live. The horn section gives them a bite missing from the original recordings.

"Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" was followed by the evening's first David Foster era ballad and their very best: "Hard Habit To Break." Instead of synths Walter plays a brief flute solo in the intro and the song concludes with a much bigger horn presence than the original had on record, and again this is the way it should be.

"Call On Me" was great and sequed without a break right into a real rocking version of "Alive Again" the band's greatest post-Kath single. This was a surprise treat.

Lee then rocked the joint with his version of "Let It Snow." His trumpet playing hit a couple of sour notes, it didn't seem to be his best night, but still I love his vocals and version of this tune.

Jim introduced the fantastic complete version of "The Ballet For a Girl From Buchanan" which is appropriate as it is his composition. The whole suite was fantastic.

Next came the unusual part of the show. Everyone else left the stage except for Jason who sat down at an electric keyboard that was moved front and center while he sang and played solo on "What Kind Of Man Would I Be?" Bill then sat down at the keyboard while Lee sang lead and Keith and Jason gathered around one microphone to sing backup on "Wishing You Were Here." While not bad this was the low point of the evening. Lee was not able to replicate the great Kath/Cetera lead vocals nor could Jason & Keith come anywhere close to The Beach Boys harmonies. I know that maybe it isn't fair to compare their background harmonies to Carl and Dennis Wilson and Al Jardine, but I just can't help it. Bill continued at this front and center keyboard with "I Don't Want to Live Without Your Love" and while the stage was still black the full band returned and they took the song home as the lights came back on.

Keith sang "Jolly Old St. Nicholas, with both he and the band rocking hard. For the first time Robert played the keytar which he does for the rest of the evening.

From this point on the night is a celebration of their greatest songs mostly written by their two best songwriters, Lamm and Pankow. "Saturday In The Park," "Feeling Stronger Everyday" and "Beginnings" brought the crowd to its feet. One interesting surprise: on "Beginnings" Robert played acoustic guitar alongside Keith's electric.

Keith sang again on "Just You and Me." Walt's flute solo in the middle harkened back to the very early days with a very eclectic solo that included a snippet of "Jingle Bells" and a combination of humming while playing the flute simultaneously.

"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is" was next, followed by "I'm A Man" complete with a horn chart in the second half right after Tris's drum solo. Robert threw his marracas into the crowd.

The main show closed with "Hard To Say I'm Sorry/Get Away." As the main song morphs into the rocking ending the synth intro on the record that introdces the fantastic Pankow horn chart is replaced by a Lee trumpet solo. It was a nice touch, and again David Foster should have allowed it to be done this way on record.

The encores were "Free" and of course "25 Or 6 To 4."

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