Chicago Is Still a Hard Habit to Break
Chicago live at The Coronado Theater, Rockford, IL – August 15, 2016
Concert review by Frank Lucas
Photos by: Rob Olewinski
I recall many moons ago, as a youngster in the 80’s, seeing Chicago (with Peter Cetera) headlining a show for 13,000 fans at the Poplar Creek Music Theater, just outside of Chicago. The event was a typical outdoor concert experience; loud, non-distinctive, echoey and cavernous in sound. The setting for tonight’s show was the legendary Coronado Theater in Rockford, IL. It is a much more intimate venue with impeccable, pristine sound clearly befitting a band with a legacy seminally vital as the newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members, Chicago. The visuals, courtesy of first rate lighting and a beautifully striking LED back screen took the audience on a trip through time, flashing images of the band’s heyday as The Chicago Transit Authority.
From the first to the second set, this was a most musical night of contrasts for me from the way ‘outside’ chord changes, horn solos imbued over syncopated and odd-time signatures and 70’s fusion-style of West Virginia Fantasies, Questions 67 and 68 and Introduction to the very poppy “Hard Habit to Break,” “You’re the Inspiration” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” However, within the arrangement of the 31 song hit parade, the song selections flowed just perfectly. We were constantly reminded of the different versions of Chicago that were most identifiable through the years; the psychedelic, jazzy-fusiony-funky rock band with the stack of vocal harmonies and powerful, accenting horn section and the Yamaha DX-7 synth-laden hit machine/pop band from the 80’s and 90’s.
Tris Imboden and Walfredo Reyes provided the backbone of a very full sounding rhythm section especially the highlight reel that was the Spencer Davis cover of “I’m a Man,” with Imboden bringing in the syncopated backbeat synonymous with classic Chicago and the secret, splashy Santana Latin sauce, tearing it up on bongos, congas, claves and timbales courtesy of Mr. Reyes. Mere mortals struggled to find where beat one was but grooved along to the percussive mayhem abound!
The brass and woodwind section (comprised of Ray Hermann, Trombonist James Pankow and Trumpeter Lee Loughnane) was nothing short of amazing. The interplay between Loughnane and Hermann on tracks like “Mongonucleosis,” was superb. Add James Pankow into the fold and you’ve got the ridiculous brass outro to the totally rocked out “Beginnings” with a terrifyingly tight unison run to cap the tune.
Despite the dominance of one of the most powerfully virtuous horn and woodwind sections in the game, I really found myself hanging my hat onto the more subdued portion of the set. “If You Leave Me Now” kicked off a mini-acoustic set featuring the substitute bassist/lead vocalist Jeff Coffey (replacing Jason Scheff) on faithfully reproduced lead vocal, Robert Lamm on a very special version of “Another Rainy Day in New York City” and ending with Lou Pardini showing off his substantial chops, playing a beautiful solo piano prelude and right into the powerful, vocally charged “Look Away” firstly accompanied by guitarist Keith Howland before launching into a full band assault replete with horns, woodwinds and all on the final chorus.
I left the concert feeling that vocally, the principals of Lamm, Loughnane, Pankow, Pardini, Howland and Coffey proved that age is just a number with the trademark harmonies being so solid and so forcefully intact that you’d think it was 1967 all over again. ‘Wall of Sound’ anyone? There was some controversy beginning early this year as to whether or not Peter Cetera would join Chicago for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The suspense ended soon after he chose not to perform with the group again.
My biggest take away from this evening’s show was that Cetera was not missed. As I always do at many concerts, I gauged audience sentiment, getting feedback from audience members and the many I had spoken with agreed wholeheartedly. All you really had to do was listen to the gasps and the crowd’s overall reaction to Jeff Coffey’s nearly perfect Peter Cetera-like vocalisms. Tunes like “Old Days,” “You’re the Inspiration,” “Hard Habit to Break” and the ridiculously ferocious encore of “25 or 6 to 4” (featuring Keith Howland channeling former guitarist Terry Kath on a distorted, fleet fingered solo) had the sold out crowd of 2,300 fans on their feet screaming! At the very end, Chicago left the standing audience in full applause wanting even more. You couldn’t really blame them. They’re a hard habit to break!
Photos © 2016 by: Rob Olewinski
Robert Lamm – Founding Member
Lee Loughnane – Founding Member
James Pankow – Founding Member
Walter Parazaider – Founding Member
Walfredo Reyes Jr.
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