a triumphant unity of two fantastic groups

photo: Fran Ruchalski

Chicago and Earth, Wind, & Fire – Heart and Soul Tour 2.0 Review

Imagine turning on the radio and hearing your favorite song by your choice artist. The lyrics immediately swing your mind back to the days of yesteryear. To that sweet summer or that neon night where the electrons and protons of love were all in sync and everything was perfect. Imagine that feeling getting pressed down, refined and purified by the caring hands of professionals performers. That was the evening. A night set a ablaze in a triumphant unity of two fantastic groups. It was an absolute cohesion of people, place and sound. When Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire stepped on stage it was like a spaceship had landed in the heart of Jacksonville City. A festival of eye-popping visuals joined with guttural down beats which then vibrated into the atmosphere. A ballad of breezy bass guitars notes made the heated degrees of Florida’s weather drop to fit the mood. Brass players lifted away the workday shade in fabulous forte’. There was no falseness in the falsettos it was all truth and that truth hit hard with the slam of precise percussions. The crowd quickly answered the siren call for entertainment; filling the rows of the Veteran’s Memorial Arena.

Both groups were gorgeous on stage. They didn’t say they were legends …. and in truth, they didn’t have to, their sound craftsmanship has been tempered in decades of training. They made being on stage look effortless and fun. No different than soaring eagles gracing the open sky with the Veteran Memorial Arena being the dreamiest of natural habitats.

‘After The Love Is Gone,’ and ‘Reasons’ made the crowd hold hands. While ‘You’re the Inspiration,’ ‘Fantasy,’ ‘Let’s Groove’ and ‘Questions 67 & 68’ made the audience act like teenagers at their first prom. I was astounded by the talent of Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire. I witnessed the artists switch instruments and play them quicker than any nightclub deejay could change to a new track. There could be a golden saxophone in one hand and a silver flute in the other. Philip Bailey could be on the conga drums or he could be taking us on a choral expedition. Jason Scheff might be on the guitar one moment but vocalizing a visionary verse the next. Or both! The skill exhibited in the show was as diverse as the people drawn to it.

The dueling drum session was entertaining. The stylish syncopation topped off with comical antics made me laugh and awe at the same time. Verdine White burst with energy like a living guitar. He rocked out reverberations with his legs booging across the stage. I actually saw a high kick to a percussion cymbal at the exact instant the song called for it. To see Ralph Johnson sing into the limelight and to watch Lou Pardini press those keys was like history in the making. Robert Lamm brought in the Fourth of July sunshine with ‘Saturday in the Park.’ Solo after sonic solo they raised the excitement. Jazz saxophone to woodwind it was just bliss in motion.

As the melodies marched in and the frowns marched out. The number of smiles in the crowd was almost outnumbered by the amount of smiles on the stage. It isn’t hard to see the secret of the performers. They love music. They love their individual music and they love each other’s music. This makes them happy, which in turn makes the viewers happy. For instance, I observed fifty and sixty year olds dancing in the aisles. Millennials strutted like no one was watching. The woman who sat calmly to my left side seemed so quiet but once her beloved song boomed out of the speakers she began whooping and gesturing like she saw her high school crush. The married couple that sat in front of me swayed back and forth to Chicago’s ‘Hard Habit to Break.’ The venue was like a boxing match with cheering fans hollering as the music made transitions to hit after hit after hit. At one point my friend seated to the right of me jokingly asked “When do the hits stop?” I answered as loud as I could over the music: “They don’t!” Friends waved to each other, jackets flew off shoulders and hips rocked side to side with the romantic rhapsodies. I heard timeless anthems. I saw generations being brought together.

I remember James Pankow, an articulate vocalist and trombone player, took a second to express to the crowd that “Without you, we’re just rehearsing.” He humbly spoke a mountain of appreciation that was shared by all the members on the glowing music floor. Cosmic displays of instrumental prowess merged into an ocean of acoustics that flowed over the listeners. Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind and Fire brought the stars out quite literally as his melody moved with the lighting of the stage revealing a gentle galaxy in the background.

The finale brought together a congregation of composers that shared their sensationalism and their liveliness. Chicago and Earth Wind and Fire joined their powerful elements to deliver a soulful performance of ‘September,’ ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’ and ‘Shining Star.’ It made me feel like uncorking a ripe bottle of champagne to celebrate the occasion. I believe Maurice White, the founder of Earth Wind and Fire, sparked a flame in many of us and he won’t be forgotten.

After the show I heard several fan renditions echo through the buzzing car garage. Joy bounced off the walls and laughter ricocheted down the block. There were no artificial flavorings, preservatives or additives in the show. This was that 100% all natural sound that only a live concert could provide. I definitely encourage everyone to take a listen. You’ll find your favorite track in no time. Their spectacular showmanship transformed the latter part of the day into a Super Bowl of sound with an extended half time. Which brings me to a question. How do you make a good night? You take one Chicago and mix it with one Earth, Wind and Fire. Stir in equal amounts. Blend well, then enjoy.

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About Perry Boyd