By N Oji Mzilikazi
31 October 2016
I own some 29 Earth Wind & Fire albums, including the 2002 Live in Rio, the 1989 Live in Atlanta, and the 1975 Live in Liverpool. I would never pass up any opportunity to see Earth, Wind &Fire live. I am a fan.
Rooted in funk and R&B, I own one record by Chicago, a 45, the 1982 Peter Cetera and David Foster penned, Hard To Say I’m Sorry with the B-side, Sonny Think Twice. Still, you cannot live in Montreal, be exposed to Ralph Lockwood and CKGM, and be unfamiliar with the band Chicago.
On Friday, October 28, my buddy Anthony Dyeth and I attended the Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire Heart & Soul Tour 3.0 at the Bell Centre.
Thanks to Tony (E, W&F) and Naskademini, we had great seats (C11 and C12); third row on the ground floor, right seats in the left of the stage.
The Bell Centre was packed. It looked like a full house to me. Patrons were treated to a laundry list of hit songs by both groups separately, and then together as a 21-member ensemble during which they jammed, rock and roll’ and sang each other songs.
I didn’t know what to expect from Chicago. I thought they would been more rock and rollish. They were smooth, jazzy and MOR (Middle Of the Road). The interplay between the drummer and percussionist on I’m A Man was something to behold. The killer songs, If You Leave Me Now, You’re the Inspiration and Hard To Say I’m Sorry had everyone rocking. While I didn’t know the full range of their repertoire, fans screamed their lungs off.
I still can’t get over Chicago James Pankow’s performance. Pankow, a founding member of Chicago was funkier than a mosquito tweeter. His skill and dexterity with the trombone was such, it sang… and what beautiful melodies. He was truly one with his instrument. His love for it, love of music and what he does was unmistakable, and on full display. I couldn’t help but jokingly whisper to Dyeth that he sleeps with the trombone next to him. Much props to Mr. Pankow.
What can I say about the 12-man Earth, Wind & Fire group, their trademark horns, funky jazz musicianship, and video-screen backdrops including their trademark flames that hasn’t been said before?
Video backdrop of E, W&F co-founder Maurice White and group singing along was touching. Philip Bailey showed no signs of vocally aging. His falsetto chops were stellar. His solo on the Kalimba pure heaven. Percussionist and vocalist B. David Whitworth was livewire for real. Verdine White killed the bass. He poured so much of his heart, soul, love, and energy into the instrument and performance, I experienced an osmatic transfusion. Verdine was on the one.
I’m an old school funkster. I was weaned on the funk, cut my teeth on the funk, got high off the funk, made love to the funk and made babies to the funk. I’ve broken the funk down; place them in categories according to the licks of the bass. I have the funk grouped in categories like “Fat leg funk,” “Dirty low-down funk,” “Hard Funk,” “Phat Funk,” “Commercial Funk” “Party Funk” and so on. I know my music. When I say Verdine was on the one, he was.
Backstage, I had a great conversation with Whitworth on House Music, New Jersey Garage, Club Zanzibar, Marshall Jefferson, Paris Grey… He went to school with Ce Ce Rogers. Rogers gospel-laced 1987 “Someday” is Classic House, and the Essay Mix of his 1990 smash “All Join Hands” induces goosebumps. And I thanked Verdine and Ralph Johnson for the music.
I told Verdine that the last time I saw Earth, Wind & Fire in concert was in the mid-nineties at Madison Square Garden with Evelyn ‘Champagne” King and Frankie Beverly (Maze). He reminded me it was in December, and was put on by Kiss F.M. Verdine concluded that this show in Montreal was better than that one.