On Tuesday night we went to the Chicago concert at the WinPAC, along with however many other people it takes to fill that venue (oh, it's 1,827 folks, according to the technical specs). The show was announced as a sellout and while I did see a few scattered empty seats, I'm sure it was due to unexpected conflicts such as labor pains and/or alien abductions.
I've been a semi-fan of Chicago ever since the early days. I wouldn't classify myself as an acolyte, unlike my pal Berry, for whom Tuesday's performance was akin to a worship experience, but their eponymous 1970 album was one of the first two LPs I ever bought with my own money (the other being the Mothers of Invention's We're Only In It For The Money). I think most band nerds of that era - I was a clarinetist, with one whimsical dalliance with a baritone sax - were at least a bit enamored with the radical concept that guys playing something other than guitars and drums could actually be cool, although when it came to jazz-rock, I really preferred Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Anyway, Debbie and I attended a Chicago concert as students at A&M in the early Seventies, and while we didn't remember much about it (it was the early Seventies, dig?), the chance to repeat the event had some sentimental attraction to it. Here are ten takeaways from the concert.
- If you seek longevity as a musician, acquire some skill on an instrument other than your voice. Inevitably, the old guys lose the upper registers (or in the case of Gary Lewis, all the registers), but the horn players can rock it until the day they pass to that Great Spit Valve in the Sky. Chicago has done a good job of finding younger replacement vocalists (who are also great instrumentalists) while keeping a core group of four original members.
- On the other hand, it doesn't matter how menacingly you thrust your trombone at the audience, that instrument will never be sexy. (I'm looking at you, James Pankow.)
- The WinPAC continues to impress as a classy venue, but bands need to realize that they're not playing to a 50,000 seat amphitheater, and the audience really can hear quite well even if the volume is only cranked to, say, eight. An eleven on the volume dial is just painful. (And then again, I'm willing to entertain the plausible suggestion that I'm simply getting old and crankly.)
- According to the female half of the couple with whom we attended the concert, Colour My World is a frightfully boring song. I confess that I had forgotten how much I agree with that assessment.
- On the other hand, I could have listened to Chicago's arrangement of Steve Winwood's classic I'm A Man all night long - even cranked to 11 - as well as the encore performance of 25 or 6 to 4.
- To the person sitting either directly behind me or next to me who made an unfortunate dining choice before the concert I offer one word of advice: Beano. Seriously, folks...it's an intimate venue; skip the pre-concert beans and broccoli next time. K'thx.
- Wally Reyes is a fairly recent addition to the group, giving a stellar performance as a percussionist, and apparently having the best time of anyone on the stage, judging by the big grin on his face throughout the performance. Based on his enthusiasm and energy level, I would have never judged him to be almost 60 years old.
- As long as I'm complaining about the loud music, I might as well throw the lighting guys under the bus, too. We're sitting there in the cozy semi-darkness and suddenly we're hit with a few hundred-thousand-candlepower spotlights, and it's not an enjoyable experience, unless you were planning on burning out your retinas later anyway. Don't do that. We don't care if the band sees us or not.
- I attribute this next observation to the relatively advanced average age of those in attendance, but we as a group were an awfully polite bunch of drivers when exiting the parking lot after the concert. Despite the large crowd, traffic moved quickly, and I saw a lot of considerate people taking turns letting people into the flow. Well, there was one driver in a Mercedes coupe who apparently had more important things to do than the rest of us, but the exception made the rule even more obvious.
- I wonder if I was the only person in the audience who, after hearing Walter Parazaider's flute solos, thought it would be really great if we could get Jethro Tull to come to Midland.
...I might as well crank it to 11 myself, with a bonus observation...
- What's up with encores, anyway? Who are we fooling? Who are they fooling? Just play the song(s) you knew all along you were going to play, and spare us the requirement of offering the adulation that earns us the privilege of hearing them. K'thx.