Monday, October 21, 2013

CONCERT REVIEW: Chicago (Melbourne, FL - 10.18.13)

(Concert photos: Christopher Long)
The King Center / Melbourne, FL 

I'll be the first to admit that I live in an alternate
universe a perfect world in which everyone loves
Jesus, the Dallas Cowboys always win, music artists
still play instruments and Chicago co-founder Robert
Lamm is my personal BFF. In fact, I often imagine 
me and "Lamm" going to dinner at the Sizzler and
hanging out watching "the big game." Hey Lamm,
quit bogarting the nachos and pass the salsa, dude! 
Hence, I was psyched about attending tonight's
sold-out Chicago performance at the fabulous 
King Center in Melbourne, Florida.

Made up of fans ranging from the young to the young at heart, the crowd of 2,200 roared with tremendous fervor as Chicago took the stage at 8:05. And in short order, the band began carving out a cavalcade of classics from its early catalog, including "Dialogue," "Questions 67 and 68" and "Alive Again." Yet despite the non-stop "Hit Parade" factor, co-founder, singer / songwriter and keyboardist Robert Lamm took a moment early on to tease the faithful flock with the promise of an upcoming Chicago record featuring all-new material that currently is in the works.

I've often likened Chicago to the rock and roll version of P.F. Chang's — as fans have come to expect an impeccable level of quality when purchasing the band's records and / or concert tickets. And for 46 years, Chicago has delivered consistently — tonight's show was no exception. The audio mix was absolutely perfect. In fact, I've never heard the band sound so good, and the set list was stellar. Visually, the show was simply spectacular-looking and truly offered fans plenty-o-bang for their hard-earned buck.

Robert Lamm is my 7th favorite guy EVER!
Aside from their near endless slew of chart-busting hits, I'm always impressed by Chicago's  consistent commitment to their country and community. In recent years the band has partnered with the American Cancer Society to help raise awareness and funds. Fans can bid online for an opportunity to "Sing with Chicago" live on stage. The top bidders win the once-in-a-lifetime experience of performing the 1976 classic, "If You Leave Me Now," with the band in selected cities during their concert tours. The winner for the Melbourne op was an adorable little gal named Gracie. While chatting briefly with Gracie backstage before the show, I mentioned that I'd seen several previous winners sing with Chicago and that I expected her to be the best. Prim, proper and full of confidence, the innocent-looking eight-year-old replied, "Yeah, that's what everyone's saying." Out of the mouths of babes!

Following Gracie's cameo, more crème de la crème classics ensued, including "Call on Me" and "(I've Been) Searching So Long." Bassist Jason Scheff's solo / keyboard rendition of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" prompted the ever-humble Lamm to comment, "I bring reinforcements because I need them," as he then manned the keyboard, accompanied by percussionist Walfredo Reyes and guitarist Keith Howland on "Wake up Sunshine." The stripped-down triple-shot wrapped up with smooth groovin' keyboardist Lou Pardini on "Look Away." The first set  concluded with "Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World," featuring co-founder / trumpeter Lee Loughnane  beautifully recreating the late Terry Kath's lead vocal.

Occupation: Badass!
Co-founder Walt Parazaider
Following intermission, the band revved up for a raucous second set, kicking off with the 1975 smash "Old Days." In short order  they unleashed a slew of early staples and '80s faves, including "Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?," "Beginnings," "Hard Habit to Break" and "You're the Inspiration."

Chicago is a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine that never fails to deliver a top notch, family-friendly show. Yet, the band does still manage to offer surprises and ample wow factor — even for us "frequent flyers." One second-half highlight was "Street Player." Although the disco-flavored track barely charted when first released in 1979, it has gone on to gain new life in recent years as a remix and sample source for such current hits as "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)" by hip hop / dance artist, Pitbull.

Lou Pardini gettin' his smooth groove on!
Another highlight was the intense and often animated duel between Reyes and longtime drummer Tris Imboden during "I'm a Man." These two guys are such musical monsters and play off each other so well that their in-concert exchange inspired me actually to go home and — toss my drums in the trash!

In a rather personal moment, Lamm confessed to the crowd that,  "this is my favorite Chicago song of all-time," as he led his crew into "Just You 'n' Me." Amen — c'mon and preach it brother.

But I was extremely disappointed by tonight's absence of co-founder / trombonist James Pankow. Was he okay? Had he been sent on another secret spy mission to aid in overthrowing a Communist regime? What's the deal? Heck, Chicago without Jimmy is like  the Cowboys without Emmitt — oh sure, you know that they're gonna win, but something is seriously missing. Fortunately, I was assured later that he's fine, and merely had taken a couple of nights off from the tour. Whew, you had me worried there for a minute, J.P. However, Nick Lane (Maynard FergusonRod StewartTom PettyThe Who) served as a fabulous fill-in.

Doggonit Jimmy, you had us worried sick!
(Photo: Neil Migala)
Co-founder Lee Loughnane.
Ending on an über high note, the show ramped down with the triple-threat combo of "Saturday in the Park," "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" and "Feelin' Stronger Every Day." But wait, there's more!

The band returned to the stage for a double-dose encore. Co-founder / saxophonist / flautist and all-'round sharp dresser (snazzy red socks and all), Walt Parazaider was burnin' all night. However, he nearly set the drapes on fire during "I Just Wanna be Free."

Despite some of their more well-known saccharine-sweet singles, Chicago is actually a pretty darn heavy band. Terry Kath's guitar work on "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" remains downright stanky, while the main riff on "Old Days" is straight-up metal, dude! And in that regard, Lamm came down, up front with keytar in-hard to join in on their heaviest tune of all, the mighty show-ending, "25 or 6 to 4." And the crowd goes wild! 

Although the show was a bona fide start-to-finish thriller, THE highlight of the night for me was the personal pre-show meet-and-greet experience. There I was, sitting backstage like a dope in a huge, dimly lit, black velvet curtain-lined room with a dozen or so other diehards. Suddenly, all nine of "them" came walking through the doorway — cool as could be. Before I knew it I was shaking Robert Lamm's hand (for real) and getting a photo with "them." Then I noticed that I'd peed in my pants!

Hey Lamm, I've made reservations for next Tuesday night at the Sizzler. After that, we can head over to the Brew & Cue and catch the Bulls game. Cool?

-Christopher Long
(October 2013)

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