Review By John Shymko, Photos by Lee-Ann Wylie.
There is, or should be, an old adage amongst touring bands that offer the very real threat and possibility of presenting a “wholesome trip down memory lane.”
It’s always a good idea to bring a percussionist.
Flugelhorns, Flutes, Guitars, Basses, Keys, Trombones, Trumpets, Saxes, all wonderful ideas… but it’s always a good idea to bring a percussionist. Especially one who has played with the likes of Joe Walsh, the Foo Fighters, Jewel and a certain member of the Presley clan. And, most especially, one that knows how to, and how not to, play.
Chicago’s sold out performance at the Centre in the Square in Kitchener on Tuesday proved a case in point. Boasting a career that spanned over four decades, the band hit the circuit with four original members, (wow!), three members of the ten year plus variety, a Grammy nominated keyboard player with ties to Santana and Stevie Wonder, and, of all things, a percussionist who looked like he could moonlight as a Tolkein swordsmith.
One of better things about Chicago, apart from their vast repertoire (over twenty five albums) and longevity is the palette of instrumentation they can harvest. I remember my jazz chordal theory teacher raving about the band. I grew up in the Peter Cetera era of “You’re my inspiration”, so I missed the “impact” when Chicago exploded onto the scene. Apparently, they were the only TRUE musicians in rock. Smile.
Personally, I can’t imagine playing a song, or songs, for over forty years and still playing it fresh. Just listening to a collection of hits makes me feel old. With an obvious baby boomer crowd’s expectations forced on them, the band rotated between searing street grooves and “sweet” love songs taken from the collective consciousness of more than one generation. Half of the audience instinctively rose out of their seats at the end of each tender ditty, but by mid show, it became blatantly obvious which material the band preferred.
Drew Hester, the aforementioned percussionist, looked like “that guy that was having so much fun that you knew somebody was going to throw him out of the party.” What had the potential to become an evening on a cruise ship turned out to be a powder keg. The call and response drum/percussion solo became the highlight of the evening for me.
Lee Loughnane drew from the spirits of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong whenever given a chance to solo. Walt Parazaider’s chameleon sax lines and multi instrumentation were impressive (what other bands can boast an employee dedicated to flute delivery?) and competent. Of considerable note, James Pankow (James Caan?), another founding member, was simply electric and on fire. The interplay of the brass and woodwinds cannot be understated with this band.
Vocally, James Laam was impressive, warm and velvety. The Cetera ballads were sung by Jason Scheff, the bass player since Cetera’s departure in 1985. This may have been the band’s only weakness, however I seemed to be alone in this assessment.
One last note. The band shook hands with the audience after the show. That’s class.