Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chicago proves less than sterling

This review was originally published on July 29, 2011 on the Soundcheck blog on the Orange County Register Web site.

Pacific 2011: Chicago proves less than sterling

Catching Chicago in concert always seems to be a hit-and-miss affair. On one hand, the group consistently performs solid versions of its long parade of hits in enthusiastic fashion that pleases fans. On the other, it can be hard to embrace the long-running band because Chicago’s performances are the sort of freewheeling affairs that fail to soar like those from other classic acts that still command top billing.
Indeed, I’ve seen a number of veteran acts this month – Steely Dan, the Monkees, Paul Rodgers – and all of them delivered shows stronger than Chicago’s sold-out affair at Pacific Amphitheatre Thursday night (July 28, 2011).

Founding member Robert Lamm‘s vocals no longer pack the power they once did, so a number of other players in the group share singing duties, which ultimately leaves no strong frontman to bring focus to their live shows. There’s certainly no doubt about the greatness of Chicago’s best songs (“Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” “25 or 6 to 4,” “Saturday in the Park”), yet it can be a tougher stretch to champion over-sweetened ballads like “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “Baby, What a Big Surprise.”
In the end, despite persistent doubts about Chicago being one of rock’s finer forces, there was plenty to enjoy during the ensemble’s 125-minute concert in Costa Mesa.

If there was a centerpiece at the band’s show it was the three-member horn section, this time featuring founding member Lee Loughnane on trumpet, with Nick Lane filling in for James Pankow on trombone and Ray Herrmann substituting for Walt Parazaider on woodwinds. They had plenty of chances to shine throughout the night, with Herrmann’s flute solo on the beautiful “Colour My World” and the threesome’s collective work for “Old Days” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” among the outstanding parts of the concert.
The arrangement of “Saturday in the Park” was also effective, with Lamm carrying the tune while performing on a portable over-the-shoulder keyboard. The audience seemed to finally be in the mood to get on their feet and have a good time, singing and clapping along.

Indeed, by the time Chicago got to its night-ending “25 or 6 to 4,” the entire crowd was up and cheering the nine men as they performed their most powerful song of the set. Singer-bassist Jason Scheff handled the majority of the high-flying tenor notes while guitarist Keith Howland unleashed a torrent of speedy notes on his guitar.

But one last thing: I hope Chicago quickly decides to never perform a Christmas song in July again. With the band set to release a holiday album later this year, a Christmas tree was wheeled out on stage and Howland sang a rock version of “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.” The moment made no sense and just didn’t work.

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