01st Aug2012

Chicago & The Doobie Brothers “Explode” at Charter One

by rockchicago

All Photos by Peter S. Sakas 

 

I have to start this review off with a disclaimer; these are two of my all-time favorite bands whose music is part of the fabric of my life. The first time I had ever seen Chicago was in 1970 and saw them every year, until 1977. Terry Kath died in early 1978 (who was such a big part of their sound) and I had never seen them in concert after that, although I still purchased their music. I had never seen the Doobie Brothers live, had viewed many of their live concert videos on youtube, so I was so very excited to see them in concert.

The Doobie Brothers

I had a photo pass for this concert so I was able to be right up against the stage taking photographs (for the first three songs) so I was awestruck as the familiar faces of Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons, and John McFee (the three long time members of the band) were right there in front of me! Patrick Simmons led off by singing Jesus is Just Alright, one of their first big hits. I should also say that I have always been a huge fan of his voice and his ballads so as he began singing in his distinctive voice that had not diminished one bit with age, I was in ecstasy. I was never a big fan of the Michael McDonald Doobie’s era, so to have what I considered the “classic line-up” of Simmons-Johnston, I could not ask for more.

Following an outstanding rendition of that classic, they continued with another of their huge hits, Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me for a Little While) with Tom Johnston on vocals. He was the prime lead guitarist for the band, so I was surprised when Patrick Simmons soloed on guitar and demonstrated that he too is a very accomplished guitarist.

After a nice ovation by the audience Tom Johnston mentioned that “Chicagois one of our favorite cities” (which elicited applause from the crowd). He continued with, “We will be doing a little old and a little new. Now from the album Captain and Me, one of our new songs, put out recently in 1970, Clear as the Driven Snow. This song started out with some lovely vocals and acoustic guitar playing by Patrick Simmons, which was superb and then morphed into a real rocking song, capped off by a killer guitar solo by Tom Johnston. Tom Johnston is the consummate showman on stage. In addition to his fine vocals and outstanding guitar playing, he was roaming all over the stage, gesturing, mugging, playing his heart out, and he brought the crowd right in with him. They received a rousing ovation for their efforts.

Johnston then introduced a new song, from their 2010 album, A World Gone Crazy, A Brand New Day, stating that it was “about Jamaica and kinda funky,” which it was. The song had a funky reggae type beat and featured a harmonica solo by John McFee, who is the multi-instrumentalist of the group, who during the concert performed on electric, slide, and acoustic guitars, harmonica, and violin.

They performed the title song from A World Gone Crazy which Johnston introduced as a song featuring Guy Allison on keyboards and “was a song about New Orleans.”Johnston, on vocals, was once again as energetic as could be, egging the crowd on with “C’mon Chicago,” encouraging them to clap along. This song featured a sax solo by Marc Russo, a Grammy award winning artist, and guitar solos by Tom Johnston and John McFee.

Johnston then took a moment to introduce the remainder of the band, John McFee on guitar, Ed Toth on drums (been with the Doobies since 2005), Marc Russo on sax, Tony Pia on drums, and John Cowan on bass.

The audience was then treated to the acoustic guitar duo of Patrick Simmons and John McFee performing Slat Key Soquel Rag. It was very well done and nicely received by the crowd.

Patrick Simmons took center stage with his acoustic guitar and when the familiar melody of the classic (and my personal Doobies favorite) South City Midnight Lady was heard by the audience there was welcoming applause. John McFee played slide guitar, there was a fine sax solo and a terrific guitar solo by Tom Johnston. Patrick Simmon’s vocals continued to enthrall me. He had more of the “ballad” type voice for the Doobies. Tom Johnston seemed to be the vocalist on their “hard rocking” hits, with his vocals sounding as good as ever as well. Both of them sounded great all night long!

At this point, I noticed that the concert venue was not completely filled, perhaps due to late-comers or perhaps some were feeling like the Doobies were the “warm-up” band and Chicago was the featured act. If that is the way they felt, they were really missing the boat, as the Doobies were giving an outstanding performance. It also seemed to me that some people did not appreciate how good the Doobies were and although applauding, not reacting with the enthusiasm I thought a concert crowd should.

As I was reflecting upon this, Tom Johnston said, “We’re gonna play some blues and have some fun. We’re gonna jam and see what happens!” Well, if there was a lackluster response by the crowd at this point, the Doobies “grabbed them by their shoulders” and got them rocking! This song featured the entire band and everyone had their turn to shine in this blues jam. Tom Johnston was the lead vocalist and he urged the audience to get into the performance. His enthusiasm was infectious and draw them in he did! There was lots of toe tapping and dancing here and there throughout the crowd. There were outstanding solos on sax, organ, and guitar (Johnston, Simmons, and McFee, who gave an especially spirited performance, all soloed). There were also periods where two or all three of the guitarists were trading licks with Marc Russo on sax. Great concert moments. At one point, Tom Johnston, John McFee, and Marc Russo were all gesturing and dancing together. I was so impressed by the outstanding musicianship and enthusiastic performance of the band. It goes without saying that they received a standing ovation. Tom Johnston tried to further encourage the crowd and the applause by running back and forth across the stage, gesturing and hollering “The Power of the Blues!” Still after all these years I was impressed by his energy, enthusiasm, and obvious enjoyment of performing live.

The next song began with a bit of a funky beat which then became recognizable as the oldie Little Bitty Pretty One. Tom Johnston was urging the crowd to sing along and they joined in on the chorus, OOOOOO-OOOOO-OO-OO-OO-OO! Marc Russo was superlative on sax and at one point was trading licks with Guy Allison on keyboards. Once again Tom Johnston was his manic self, all fired up. The crowd was definitely more into the show now and there was more enthusiastic applause.

The band tapped into the excitement with the next song. As the crowd heard the familiar intro of the next song with the acoustic guitar of Patrick Simmons and violin of John McFee, they knew what was coming next and started to stand and cheer as they played the monster hit, Black Water. Patrick Simmons had a great vocal performance, there were fine harmonies, and John McFee did a nice job on the violin. The Doobies changed the lyrics a bit to enthuse the crowd which it did. They changed “Mississippi moon…” to “Illinois moon keep shining on me” and later to “Chicago moon…” which the audience appreciated. There was also some fine acoustic guitar work by Patrick Simmons and John McFee. The entire audience was singing by the halfway point of the song and they were really into the performance. There was a well-deserved standing ovation.

The excitement keep building as the band barreled ahead with Long Train Running. The audience was singing along loudly, standing, and some were dancing. Tom Johnston was his usual animated self, singing, playing, gesturing, moving all over the stage, and firing the audience up. John McFee once again gave a fine harmonica solo, Marc Russo had his usual outstanding sax solo, Patrick Simmons soloed on guitar, and Tom Johnston closed the song with a guitar solo, accentuated with an arm punch! They received the most enthusiastic standing ovation of the night to this point.

The fervor of the crowd was heightened as Tom Johnston yelled out, “Chicago, how are you now? I think we should keep going!” When the opening guitar riff of China Grove was heard the audience truly went nuts….standing, singing, dancing. Patrick Simmons soloed on guitar and at one point, all three guitarists stood shoulder to shoulder to shoulder playing in unison and truly seemed to be enjoying themselves. Once again there was a standing ovation.

While the crowd was still standing and clapping, the band delved right into another big hit from the phenomenal album, Captain and Me, Without You. There were great vocals by Tom Johnston, great harmonies, mugging by the band members, inspired solos, and once again the three guitarists, plus the bassist all lined up together at center stage and were playing/dancing ala ZZ Top. The audience was still in their frenzied state and when the song completed, erupted into raucous applause and a standing ovation.

As Tom Johnston was walking off the stage he yelled to the crowd, “Chicago – People we love you. Keep rocking!” An absolutely energetic and totally enjoyable 70 minute or so set of classic rock, by one of the premiere bands of our time, who proved that they still “got it!”

Chicago

There was eager anticipation on my part forChicago, as the last time I had seen them was 1977 when I was in graduate school in the South.Chicagowas hands down one of my all-time favorite bands in the late sixties and seventies. They started to fall off my radar screen with the death of Terry Kath and then with the departure of Peter Cetera. I would still purchase their albums, but the early, classic ones were by far my favorites.

 

With my photo pass, I was once again next to the stage, only for the first two songs. The lights went down, the crowd began to cheer and suddenly before me were the faces I had known so well growing up, James Pankow (trombone), Walt Parazaider (saxophone), Lee Loughnane (trumpet) and Robert Lamm (keyboards), the four remaining original members of the band. They all seemed remarkably fit, and despite a bit of aging looked pretty darn good! When I had seenChicagoin the years past, the horns tended to be in the back portion of the stage, but now they were front and center. They were truly the focal point and they were a joy to behold as they gave such spirited and enthusiastic performances. The way the horn section seemed to take the lead in the concert was definitely ahigh pointfor me.

The band opened with their classic from Chicago II, Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon (which included the hits Make Me Smile and Colour My World). The band sounded great and the horn section really seemed to be into the performance. I was anxious to see how the classic Colour My World was going to sound, as it was always associated with the late Terry Kath. I was surprised when Lee Loughnane stepped up to the mike and began to sing and he sounded just fine! Of course the audience absolutely loved the entire “Ballet” and gave an enthusiastic ovation.

The next song was Dialogue Part 1 and 2, another classic that was a vocal exchange between the late Terry Kath and Peter Cetera, who left the band. Musically, it was fine, but the vocals left me a bit flat. Sadly, the original vocalists were ingrained in my brain and I was mentally holding the new vocalists to the very high standards of the originals. It was a fine performance nonetheless, and the audience was very appreciative.

James Pankow then addressed the crowd and said, “Glad to be in Chicagoagain. Good to see you loyal fans. It is great both as composers and performers. It is also great to be here with our friends the Doobies.” He then introduced the next song, “The next song has two audiences, those that got married to it, and those who got conceived to it! Just You and Me. This was a Peter Cetera classic and Jason Scheff, the replacement bass player and vocalist for him, did an adequate job, but it is hard filling Peter Cetera’s shoes. Walt Parazaider had a wonderful flute solo on this song. The audience sang along to this definiteChicago favorite.

Lee Loughnane took his turn speaking to the audience and explained that the band, Chicago, was partnering with the American Cancer Society to help fight breast cancer. He stated, “More birthdays!” He continued by saying that they had a cancer drive and the winner would come backstage with the band, meet them, eat with them, take pictures with them, come on stage and sing with the band. He announced the winner as Isabee Nanni who came out and played guitar and sang If You Leave Me Now. She gave a fine performance and the audience gave her a great round of applause.

As the audience heard the electric piano opening to the next song, there was a murmur of approval as the band went into (I’ve Been) Searching So Long. Once again it was a trademark Peter Cetera song but Jason Scheff was winning me over. I stopped comparing him to Peter Cetera and really started appreciating him and his talents. Yes, this old dog was learning “new tricks” so to speak. At this point, I was also holding the guitarist to the standard of Terry Kath and was listening to the differences and feeling a bit disappointed. But as I listened more, Keith Howland, the lead guitarist was a fine guitarist in his own right and I began to appreciate him for his abilities. I also noted that often he would be channeling some of Terry Kath’s trademark sounds. Yes, the new band members were winning me over. But the “old guys” still had it, that phenomenal horn section that had been together since the inception of the band was still rocking.

The band seamlessly then went into the instrumental (and one of my favorite Chicago tunes) Mongonucleosis. The horn section and percussion were featured on this song and they delivered. It was a very spirited performance and Lee Loughnane had a great trumpet solo. James Pankow put his trombone down on this song and was assisting on percussion, banging away like a madman. An absolutely stellar performance by the band.

Moving from the upbeat instrumental, Walt Parazaider began the flute solo introduction to the ballad, A Hard Habit to Break. Jason Scheff on bass and Lou Pardidni on keyboards were vocalists and were superlative together. They were was superb interplay on the vocals between them and was the finest vocal performance by the band so far. The audience was also singing along to this familiar tune. The horn section and guitar closed the deal on this song which resulted in a rousing ovation.

Robert Lamm then stepped to center stage. He said, “Hello Chicago. Having a wonderful summer with the Doobies. I am Robert Lamm, a songwriter who was fortunate to be with such a fine group of musicians.” He then introduced the band, “founding members Walt Parazaider on sax and Lee Loughnane on trumpet, Jason Scheff on bass, Keith Howland on guitar, the brains of the horns, the man who built our band website chicagotheband.com, the heart and soul of the horn section, the nervous system of the horn section James Pankow, brilliant keyboardist and amazing singer Lou Pardini, playing in what I call the toy section – percussion Ralfredo Reyes, and a world class player our drummer Tris Imbden.”

As a personal aside, I always enjoyed Robert Lamm, his music and vocals. He was a huge part of the early Chicagosound but seemed to be eclipsed as the years went on, as Peter Cetera’s star seemed to rise. I was so happy to see him back in the forefront again. As I was listening to the performance of the Chicagohits all night, his compositions still stood the test of time and sounded as great as ever. One definite highlight of the night was when he introduced, “Here’s something from our first album, Beginnings.” The whole audience began singing loudly along with Robert. As he was playing the acoustic guitar as accompaniment he had a big smile as the audience was singing their hearts out. It definitely has to be flattering to know that one of your compositions is so beloved by so many people. Robert Lamm was in great voice, his vocals were outstanding, and it was a just plain super performance. To add the icing to the cake, James Pankow gave a very spirited trombone solo. I should also remark that James Pankow is probably the most energetic and demonstrative performer in the band (the percussionist, Reyes, with his facial expressions and dramatic flourishes is a close second). All night long he was all over the stage, dancing around, gesturing, hot dogging it a bit….he was a joy to watch as he seemed to be enjoying himself so much. I remember him being that way when I saw them in the seventies, but I thought he was even more energetic now, nearly forty years later! The audience just loved him.

The band dug out another chestnut from the first album, I’m a Man. This was a song that originally featured the outstanding guitar of Terry Kath and Danny Seraphine on drums. It started off with the trademark percussion and great vocals by Robert Lamm and Jason Scheff. I was thrilled to hear significant “wah wah” from the guitar of Keith Howland, definitely paying homage to Terry Kath, but fine guitar work in his own right. But the payoff in this song was the closing section which was an extended percussion solo, interplay between Imbden and Reyes, going back and forth on the drums and Latin percussion. It brought the audience to their feet for a standing ovation.

I was not so familiar with the ensuing song, which I eventually recognized as Streetplayer. A fine vocal performance by Jason Scheff, but the standout on this song was the horn section. They were tight and crisp. They were front and center on the stage this song and in fact all three engaged in a bit of line dancing during the performance. This type of activity definitely served to fire up the crowd.

They went way back to perform one of their all time favorites, Saturday in the Park, sung by Robert Lamm, whose voice still sounded great. The audience was singing, standing, swaying to the music, and the horn section kept urging the crowd to clap along, which they eagerly did. Another enthusiastic standing ovation.

Jason Scheff then sang another Peter Cetera standard, Hard to Say I’m Sorry / Get Away, the opening portion a ballad followed by the upbeat second part of the medley. The crowd sang right along with the ballad portion of the medley. This song showcased some nice lead guitar work and a fine trumpet solo by Lee Loughnane. As the song morphed into the upbeat portion, Get Away, the audience was standing, clapping, and dancing.

For the closing song of the 70 minute or so set, the band went right into the rocking ending of the monster classic hit, Feeling Stronger Everyday. Anyone who was not standing by this point was now on their feet as the whole crowd was singing and dancing. The band then walked off stage to a rousing and well-deserved ovation.

During the Chicago portion of this concert, I was mentally comparing this band to the classicChicagoline-up of forty years ago. But as I listened objectively, this reincarnation of the band won me over and these classic songs had a freshness to them that made me really appreciate the “new” members of the band. I was also impressed that the horn section took a leading role in the performance. Their demonstrative performance fired up the crowd and their enthusiasm was infectious. I was really happy to see that after all these years they were not going “through the motions” but actually enjoying themselves and appreciative of the fans. Bravo.

The Encore

As the crowd kept clamoring for an encore I was thinking of the logistics involved of both bands being on stage together. That was one large conglomerate of musicians, Chicago having nine members and the Doobies having seven for a total of sixteen! There would be three drummers (and a percussionist), four guitarists, four horn players, two bassists, and three keyboardists!

Both bands walked out to a deafening ovation. Boy, what an encore these bands played. They saved some of the killer hits for the end and did they deliver. They alternated between a Doobies hit, followed by aChicagohit. Each band was playing on all songs, sharing vocal duties and solos from both bands on each song. It was extremely interesting and entertaining. The crowd was standing during the entire encore which consisted of six classic hits. You could see how much the bands did enjoy the experience, seeming to appreciate the other band. There were lots of smiles, gesturing, hot dogging, especially by Tom Johnston of the Doobies and James Pankow ofChicago, which the crowd adored.

The encore set opened with the Doobies hit Rockin’ Down the Highway, opening vocal by Tom Johnston, followed by Robert Lamm.

Next was the Chicago classic from Chicago III Free, distinguished by some superlative sax solos by Walt Parazaider of Chicago and Marc Russo of the Doobies. They were trading licks back and forth, culminating with a high five between them.

Following that was another great Doobies tune Takin’ It to the Streets. Patrick Simmons started on vocals and then was accompanied by Jason Scheff. There were wonderful harmonies on this song and it was superb rendition. The crowd went wild!

Robert Lamm began singing Does Anybody Know What Time It Is? and it became a mass audience sing along.

The final Doobies song of the night was Listen to the Music and Tom Johnston kept urging the audience to sing along, which they enthusiastically did.

The final song of the night and encore was 25 or 6 to 4. It was a rocking rendition of the song, especially when you have four guitarists on stage. At one point all four lined up close together at center stage and were jamming away. What a great end to a great show. The crowd showered both bands with an enthusiastic standing ovation as they took their bows.

All the band members had left the stage except for James Pankow. As he took his final bow he said, “Chicago, it’s good to be back home. You were a great audience, we love you, good night.” As he walked off the stage he raised his clenched fist and said “Rock on!”

What a great concert experience. Overall the entire concert was over three hours long and both groups covered their classic hits. Those of you who did not attend the show really missed a great opportunity to see two of the best classic rock bands of our time in a fine concert venue. The sound at the Charter One Pavilion was perfect, there were nice sightlines, and it all came together to make it one outstanding evening.

Reviewed by Peter S. Sakas on 7/28/12

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