When Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago toured last year, each group performed separate sets and segments of the show together, with EW&F clearly delivering the best moments at a September stop at the Greek Theatre. However, because of the dual design of that bill, the most magical moments of EW&F’s set were spread over 3 1/2 hours.
In a wonderful show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine on Friday night (August 18, 2006) clocking in at a mere 90 minutes, the genre- and time-defying EW&F performed a mix of energetic dance numbers and emotional ballads in ways simply not possible the last time the group rolled through the region.
What has always set EW&F apart from just about any other artist is the way the large ensemble can lock into a dance groove and use a blend of R&B, Motown harmonies, pop, funk and blues to joyous effect. “Shining Star” and “Saturday Nite” were highlights in the early part of the set, but the overall energy and excitement of the band and the connection with the audience continued to build.
And while the range of material covered by the 12-member touring version of the troupe stretched from disco to soulful ballads, there was cohesiveness courtesy of lead vocalist Philip Bailey, bassist Verdine White and the three-member horn section that lifted the performance of all of the songs. Even though inserting a ballad into the middle of a set could easily squash the momentum, EW&F had no worries on this night. During beautiful renditions of “Reasons” and “After the Love Has Gone,” Bailey’s soaring vocals provided the dramatics. During dynamic dance tunes such as “Sing A Song” and “September,” the mix of funky grooves, lush vocals, layered guitars and horn blasts propelled the music in unison with the moving crowd.
In fact, many in the near-capacity crowd stood for much of the concert, providing an additional boost to EW&F as the band played most of its big hits from the 1970s and early 1980s.
In a rare moment as concerts go, the performance of “Fantasy” boasted that magical moment when the combination of great song, talented players and tuned-in audience arrive at some distant place together.
Opener Chris Botti, an accomplished trumpet player, played a solid hour-long set that was a true amalgamation of smooth and adventurous jazz material. Botti and his excellent quartet excelled during instrumental versions of “Cinema Paradiso,” “A Thousand Kisses Deep” and “My Funny Valentine.”