Red Rocks above Denver is a natural amphitheater that has been hosting concerts for almost a hundred years and is where the Beatles appeared 41 years ago. Paul McCartney, during his last concert in Denver, commented that when the Beatles performed there, they had a hard time finishing their set, due to the elevation. The walk from the parking lot alone is a formidable ascent.
The teaming of these two legendary bands is phenomenal, each performing for over three decades. Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) originally came from Chicago. The band Chicago, I’m not sure where they’re from.
The playlist for Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire was essentially the same as their Platinum-selling DVD recorded in Los Angeles in 2004 Chicago/Earth, Wind & Fire – Live at the Greek Theatre.
Everyone cheered and rose to their feet as both bands entered together to do the Chicago song “Beginnings,” with 21 musicians on stage trading guitar licks between the bands
Already, the smell of burning herbs wafted across the twilight air. By the end of the evening, the air was redolent with the unmistakable fragrance of superheated recreational pharmaceuticals.
EWF then did some funky dance music from “We Can Make It Happen” as the bands intermingled sides and shared lyrics.
They slid right into “We Can Make It Happen,” then upshifted into an energetic tune with their trademark high voices.
Philip Bailey, the young lead singer of EWF, is local to Denver and said, “Nice to be home. We used to sneak over the fence back there to see Chicago.”
Earth, Wind & Fire Songs
Chicago left the stage, and EWF opened their solo part of the show with an instrumental of blaring guitars superseded only by horns gone wild. It was more felt than heard.
Then they did “Party People”, heavy on the thump, that was followed by “Party Like It’s Saturday Night”
The awaited “Boogie Wonderland” was pure discomania.
Philip played the kalimba, a beautiful African thumb piano.
It was a real treat to watch aging boomers recapturing their youth. But the middle-aged gent in front of me was dancing to the music in a way that suggested he never had rhythm, even in his youth.
Then EWF did some blues, followed by the love song co-written by Chicago’s Bill Champlin, “After the Love Is Gone.” He invited the participation of the audience to sing along, and instrumental solos covered the fact that he just couldn’t hit the notes anymore.
EWF did some songs from their forthcoming (on September 20) CD, Illumination
They then did “Hearts Afire ” followed by Philip doing a riff from somewhere, “Over the Rainbow,” where he hit notes higher than many women I know. What a set of pipes!
This was followed by the Beatles cover “Got to Get You Into My Life” and “12th of Never.” It was a funkalicious fantasy.
They had 12 people on stage, though only two from the original band: Verdine White and Ralph Johnson. They had 3, count ’em 3 drum sets — and bongos. Did I mention the cowbells?
Following the break, Chicago started their part of the show with a drum duel between their drummer and EWF’s drummer and was later joined by steel drums by EWF. While there were 8 people on the stage, only 4 were from the original band: Robert Lamm, Walt Parazaider, Jimmy Pankow, and Lee Loughnane.
Then was “Great Shouts of Joy.” Great horns, but Bill Champlin’s weak voice couldn’t hit the notes, so he kicked beyond it. Where EWF made up for their lack of precision with energy and enthusiasm, Chicago made up for weak voices with horns and guitars. While the horns were brassy, they couldn’t make up for the missed vocal fidelity.
When Chicago did “Color My World,” the crowd went wild, especially for the flute solo.
Phillip Bailey of EWF (mercifully) sang “If You Leave Me Now” as no one in Chicago had the voice for it.
At Red Rocks, the wind came up, and microphones got wind-blasted.
Chicago did lots of hits from the ’70s. When they sang the lyrics “I Love You, You Know I Do, You Love Me Too,” one longed to have their former bassist/vocalist Pete Cetera on the stage.
They did “I am Alive Again,” but not nearly as many people were on their feet as they had been for the entire EWF section. Indeed, while I came to hear Chicago and not EWF, Chicago suffered by comparison following EWF.
Chicago did some hits from their landmark album “Chicago 16” from 1982: “(You’re a) Hard Habit to Break.” When they sang “Being Without You,” it pointed out that the band was without Pete Cetera. Did I mention that? I felt that way more than once.
“Old Days”, good times I remember, brought them to their feet again.
When they did “Just You And Me,” they covered their weak vocals with improvisational instrumental blandishment.
The crowd came alive for “Saturday in the Park”
“Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” then brought everyone to their feet.
“I’m a Man” sounded like a plane taking off.
Chicago’s final song was the rambunctious double hit from Chicago 16 “Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away”. It was a veritable rock-o-rama.
EWF joined them for the encore including “25 or 6 to 4” and “Shining Star,” but I did not stay; I’d had enough for the evening.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian