Saturday, in the Park...
...and I think it was the 4th of July. Or am I remembering dancing on the 21st night of September? *grin*
So, as I mentioned previously, I went to see Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire. No, this wasn't another experience at the O'Hare airport - this was a concert. For some reason, however, I wasn’t excited about it. Perhaps it was because I knew that it would have to be an abbreviated show because of sound curfews in Mountain View, or because it was a double bill, or any number of other factors. Perhaps it was because I was just a tiny bit nervous about seeing Chicago in a much larger forum than I have become accustomed to over the years. For the last 8 years or so, DH and I have taken them in at a mountain winery, and this year they simply didn’t play there. Which was perfect, since I had intended last year that I was going to go see them play with Earth, Wind & Fire, and I had seen them play at Concord Pavilion many times during the 80s and early 90s. Shoreline should have felt like a return for me.
But initially, it didn’t. Not even when I bought my expensive t-shirts before the show – expensive, but ones that I will wear into the ground. Trust me on that.
Anyway, when we got there, we parked the car and started the trek into the venue. As we got near to the entrance, we found there was a free shuttle onto the grounds, and we took advantage of it. As we boarded, we heard squeals from the rear of the bus as some women who seemingly hadn’t seen each other in a long time met up and started yapping. Excitedly. Like little drop kick sized dogs. Anyway, they boarded the back of the bus, and it was an ongoing joke for me and the two ladies across from me about their behavior. Especially since it seemed that they had started the drinking portion of the evening early. Keep in mind folks, it was only about 6:30 at this point. Since they were carrying lawn chairs, I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t be anywhere near me, since I had reserved seating. There's a very good reason I'm willing to pay those prices.
Happy with the shirts, happy with the seats, happy there weren’t drunk happy yappy women around me – trust me, they were squealing happy women, the type that I poke fun at regularly and sometimes resemble when really really excited about something. But intriguingly enough I was not excited about any of what was about to happen. At least not while I was sitting there waiting for the show to start with the breezes blowing around us. Something just didn’t feel right, until about 15 minutes before the show. There was a seemingly nice couple sitting next to us, until they realized they were in the wrong section, and it was a older couple there instead. By older, I’m going to peg the woman at a very badly aged mid to upper 50s, who was wearing white capris, a white tank, with a white see through sweater over it, and all I could think of before I almost asphyxiated from her perfume cloud was that she was going to freeze. And then she sat down with her marguerite and threw her opposite leg over onto her companions’ lap, and I was done for. Let the snarkicity begin. I swear, if she could have *been* in the poor guy's lap, she would have - of course, he didn't seem that disturbed by her, so maybe they were a matched set. Shortly after that, a large group of squealing women showed up, and while they weren’t related to the ladies we’d experienced earlier on the bus into the venue, they were just as loud and squealy. I knew we were in for something that night.
That’s when I started to get excited. That’s when I started to amp up. That’s when I decided I needed some chocolate, so I wandered off with $2 from DH (because all I had was 20s) for peanut M&Ms until the kid who had just sold a bag of them to the guy in front of me for $2 tried to convince me that they were $3. He’d just sold them to people next to me in seating for $2 – I paid close attention to this. So I asked for my $2 back and tossed the bag of M&Ms back on his tray and went back to my seat, slightly ranting and only with 4 minutes to showtime to go. Still amped, little angry, ranting just slightly. And then it started.
There’s something about hearing Chicago’s "Beginnings" with a full 20 person orchestra – 6 members of the horn section, 4 percussionists, two guys on boards, a bunch of guitarists, and much harmonization between them all. They traded off for a few songs, Chicago first, then EWF, back to Chicago and so on, until they reached a good stopping point, and then said that EWF would be starting the show and would be playing some tracks from the new album. This gave me a slight glimmer of hope because I know Chicago has something in the can that people are calling the 30th album (a.k.a. XXX) and that it should be released soon. On the other hand, founding member Robert Lamm was recently spotted (on his BB) to say that it *could* be delayed to spring, and that it really is a summer touring sort of album. Oh Kay. I can wait until Spring. Really. If it’s Spring 2006, I can wait. Impatiently, yes, but I can wait. If it means that there will be new material that I will have already committed to brain, heart and dancing hips by the time the next tour rolls around, you bet I can wait.
Is anybody getting the feeling that I really love Chicago? If you don’t, then you will by now. I *really* love Chicago. For roughly the last 30 years I’ve listened to them, which basically puts them at the forefront of my entire musical life. Ever. I remember hearing '25 or 6 to 4' when I was about 4 years old and said "wow". That’s it, end of story. But not end of today’s blog, because I have digressed from the original topic, sort of.
Anyway, EWF took the stage, and I swear I think I didn’t sit down but for 4 songs of their entire hour and 15 minute set. I danced just about the entire time while singing along. I know DH was a little surprised that I knew so many of their hits, but hey, they were very present in the musical landscape while I was growing up and you just couldn’t help but love EWF. Horns, drums and guitars – they were meant to be together on a rock stage. Now, that group of squealing wild women moved from our row (on the other side of the perfume cloud woman) to the row in front of us, because it was empty, and they were having a good old time with their hurricanes, beers, and screaming and dancing. Hey, they were part of the entertainment too, and I couldn’t help but laugh and smile watching them, even while snarking to DH, because I couldn’t begrudge them the obvious good time that they were having.
Anyway, EWF? Totally rocked. They were having a darn good time up there, and it showed. They had a Russian guitar player that was astounding. But the best part of their set for me? Hearing them announce that they were going to play one of their biggest hits, a love song – and I just about died and went to heaven, because I knew what was coming. They brought up the man who co-wrote that song to have him sing it – Bill Champlin, the keyboardist and a lead vocalist for Chicago ("Look Away" anyone? That gorgeous raspy French vanilla ice cream laced with hot fudge and caramel voice that sounds like he should be doing country music doing vocals? *That* is him.) I almost cried I was so thrilled to hear him singing that Grammy winning tune. I'm sure there were people in that crowd (and reading this blog) that had no idea he was behind that tune (and the author of George Benson's "Turn Your Love Around", and many other hits with a little institution called 'Sons of Champlin' that's been around the Bay Area blues/jazz circuit since the 1960s). I can still hear and see it in my mind if I close my eyes. You know, I don’t harbor crushes on rock stars – I harbor desire for their voices, and his is one I will always welcome over the speakers. Shortly after that they went off stage and the lights came up while things were moved around just ever so slightly and adjusted for Chicago to take the stage. And the group of wild women disappeared – either to empty bladders or refill them, I know not. I mentioned this to DH, and he promptly smiled and said, "Zazu, the herd is on the move." Yes I know that’s not the right line. But I lost it, completely lost it. I was laughing until the tears came. OH, the tears!
I almost lost the love for EWF considering that during the break we kept hearing announcements to come and pre-order the new CD from them and get a pass to meet the band. I told DH that would be great if they could throw in meeting Chicago. Heck, since I know that they have something new in the pipeline (finally, after 12 years), why couldn’t they do a pre-order of *that* and meet the band. Then I would die and go to heaven, but I’d probably be tongue tied and not be able to say anything and just sit there smiling and happy. Of course, I would have to also be prepared with a copy of Champlin’s "He Started to Sing" and Lamm’s "Subtlety and Passion", and Scheff’s "Chauncy" for them to sign. Then again, maybe my bootleg copy of ‘Stone of Sisyphus’ (a.k.a. 22) would start conversation flowing for me. Especially when I ask if they’ll ever release it. Ah, but that will never happen, except only in my dreams.
Anyway, Chicago took the stage, starting with Tris (the drummer) and the two drummers from EWF doing a magnificent drum set, that segued eventually into Chicago’s ‘Ballet for a Girl in Buchanan’ – for the uneducated about Chicago music, this is the 15 minute long piece of music that spawned two of their earliest hits: "Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World" – yes, they were bookends of one piece of music, written by the trombone player who is still with the band. And he still looks good and has a great time. Early in the Ballet, they came in too early with the vocals on one part, and I worried because they didn’t sound right. Leave it to the horn section to put them right again and I was relieved.
When they took a break, Robert mentioned that between EWF and Chicago, they were playing a lot of songs from the 70s, and that he didn’t remember the 70s (no surprise to me considering the cocaine and alcohol habit he was known to have back then), and he looked across the stage. Then he reported to the audience that Jimmy says he had fun during the 70s. That left a smile on my face for the rest of the set, which more of was spent sitting and listening than standing and dancing, but there were dancing moments. I have to say that hearing Chicago with a full speaker system and the mixes and arrangements picked up for a big stadium show instead of a small winery were... incredible. A little discordant, and sometimes messy, but it brought back that full sound I remember hearing back in the 80s at Concord.
Interesting moment in the night – hearing DH singing along with some of the Chicago ballads, which is something I’ve never heard from him before. Oh sure, he's sung along with "Saturday in the Park" and "25 or 6 to 4" and the rockin' songs. But the *love songs*? It’s not that I didn’t think that he knew the words. It’s more that I was surprised that he was singing with the *ballads* - and wow, I was… nothing short of stunned. And in another moment of managing to stun me properly, the *CROWD* was singing. It was scary when they started up with "Hard Habit to Break" and they didn’t sing the first line – the crowd was doing it for them - good thing too, because it was clear that Jason's mic wasn't on. I’ve not experienced crowd singing to that level since the late 80s. Oh sure, some folks sing at the winery, but come on – that’s a more yuppie sophisticated crowd as opposed to those who would favor a large stadium. Still, I’m in shock over that. I got a little concerned when I saw Bill shake his hand out at the end of a particularly trying chord progression during one song - knowing that same progression myself, it would be easy to sprain your wrist doing it, but it would be disasterous to do so during a concert. Still, the show must go on, and he continued without issue.
At the end EWF came back out and took the stage along with Chicago (as they had at the beginning) and did some of their songs together as a combined band. Some great guitar solos came out of that, and hearing Chicago help them out on "September" and EWF contributing to "25 or 6 to 4" has spoiled me for the next time I see Chicago, which hopefully will be with new material sometime next summer. A full orchestra, a lot of energy, and a rockin’ good time to boot. And that was my Saturday night – I was fighting falling asleep happily in the car on the way home, with yet another year of seeing Chicago under my belt, and now y’all know the extent of my love for the band. Obsession? Not quite...
...at least that’s what I keep telling myself.