Chicago is anything but an ordinary rock and roll band. Though often associated with softer style acts such as REO Speedwagon, Air Supply, and Orleans, in reality, the Midwestern outfit, formed more than 50 years ago in Illinois’ most populous city, is much more complex than that.
While most traditional classic rock bands boast an average of four or five members to fill the positions of lead singer, guitarist(s), bassist, and drummer, the former Chicago Transit Authority shook up conventional wisdom and created their legacy with the aforementioned roles but didn’t stop there, adding a saxophone, trombone, trumpet, keyboards, and percussion to the mix. Blended together, the finished product has resulted in one of popular music’s most successful and enduring groups of all time.
Currently in the midst of a seemingly never-ending North American tour, the workhorse band recently sold out two consecutive nights at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury on Long Island, NY and in the process, demonstrated their adept ability at crafting intricate musical arrangements while managing to seamlessly perform them in a proficient manner.
Night number two on Tuesday, June 18, saw Chicago lead off with “Introduction,” the aptly-titled opening track from the band’s debut effort in 1969, as the expert songwriting prowess of founding member Terry Kath was showcased early on and was a classy tribute to the late guitarist. “Questions 67 and 68,” written by keyboardist Robert Lamm about a relationship the singer/songwriter had during the song’s aforementioned years and also noteworthy for being the group’s first single, followed, and is still as poignant as it was when it was first released over a half century ago.
Lamm is one of three original members still active in the band, along with trombonist James Pankow and trumpeter Lee Loughnane. The dynamic between the three, in addition to longtime guitarist Keith Howland, famed keyboardist Lou Pardini, saxophonist Ray Herrmann, bassist Brett Simons, and the drums/percussion combination of Walfredo Reyes Jr. and Ramon Yslas, generated a raucous atmosphere for the duration of the two-hour set. But it was newcomer Neil Donell, added to the roster in 2018, who fortified the lineup and provided an integral ingredient that had been missing recently.
Previous lead singer Jeff Coffey, while certainly a competent vocalist, lasted less than two years with the group and never appeared to completely fit in, failing to fully embrace their rigorous touring schedule. Donell, formerly of the Chicago tribute act Brass Transit, crooned classics like “You’re The Inspiration,” “Hard Habit To Break,” and “If You Leave Me Now” with ease – no small feat considering they were made famous by one of melodic rock’s greatest tenors ever, Peter Cetera, who departed the band in 1985. But the Canadian front man, jokingly referred to as being from “just north of Chicago” during introductions, showcased his impressive range beautifully, and the appreciative crowd let him know it with several standing ovations.
Also notable was the Reyes/Yslas tandem. Though some drum solos tend to either last for too long, become monotonous, or worse, both, Reyes and Yslas managed to facilitate a welcome tonal shift during their allotted time, creating an eclectic hybrid of sounds touching on everything from jazz to psychedelic to Latin-fusion, highlighted by a penetrating ‘drum-off’ between the two virtuosos.
The band’s quintessential observational ditty “Saturday In The Park” capped off an extended encore, chased by the multilayered gem “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.” The funky, frenetic “Free” kept the party atmosphere bustling, before Lamm’s 1970 masterpiece about the challenges of writing a song in the middle of the night, “25 Or 6 To 4,” concluded the evening’s festivities with flair.
For a unit as storied as Chicago, their live shows are a testament to the group’s remarkable staying power. After a career that’s spanned more than five decades, Chicago’s trajectory is clear – that of a beloved musical amalgamation that continues to excel with no hint of stagnation.
- Questions 67 And 68
- Dialogue (Part I & II)
- Wake Up Sunshine
- Call On Me
- (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long
- If You Leave Me Now
- Look Away
- Make Me Smile
- Colour My World
- Alive Again
- Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
- Old Days
- Hard Habit To Break
- You’re The Inspiration
- I’m A Man
- Just You ‘n’ Me
- Hard To Say I’m Sorry
- Saturday In The Park
- Feelin’ Stronger Every Day
- 25 Or 6 to 4
Click here for Chicago’s tour dates.