Article and Photo Credit L. Paul Mann
One of Americas most enduring rock groups, Chicago had begun a brand new tour in 2018, with a new line up and new set list concentrating on the bands most classic tunes from their first two albums.
The band took a break from their current month-long residency at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, to do a whirlwind tour of California. The mini-tour included a stop at the luxurious Fred Kavli Theater in the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Sunday, February 18th. According to the band’s website, the tour features the group’s second album in its entirety during the first set. That was followed by “the world’s longest encore”, with a second set full of the band’s greatest hits. The new tour features a new line up for the band. The changes include Walfredo Reyes Jr. who has been touring with Chicago for many years as the percussionist, taking over as the group’s new drummer. Replacing Wally on percussion is his talented brother Danny. Canadian Neil Donell, who has appeared as a guest vocalist with Chicago on several occasions has taken over lead tenor vocals. Brett Simons who has toured and recorded with numerous musical legends has taken over Bass duties. The trio joins the seven other current members of the band including the three original members, Lee Loughnane on trumpet, James Pankow on trombone, and singer and keyboardist Robert Lamm.
Chicago began their innovative chart-topping musical rise in 1969, with the debut of their double first album Chicago Transit Authority. The album, nominated for a Grammy for “Best New Artist of The Year” went platinum. The album was followed by another incredible work, Chicago II, also a double album. As advertised, the show in Thousand Oaks began with this album in its entirety. The first two Chicago albums were innovative rock jazz masterpieces, led by the incredible guitar work of Terry Kath. When Chicago opened for Jimi Hendrix back in 1968, Hendrix was quoted, “Jeez, your horn players are like one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me.” After Kath’s untimely death in 1978, Chicago’s sound switched to a softer more pop-oriented sound. By the 1990’s, after producing dozens of albums, the bands live shows had become a stale shallow shadow of the former avant-garde rock shows.
But the latest incarnation of Chicago has returned to the band’s rock roots, not just in material but style as well and their new tour may be their best in decades. Guitarist Keith Howland seemed to channel Kath’s raw energy on classic songs from Chicago II, like 25 or 6 to 4. Original member, Lamm sang lead on many songs and occasionally would play a keytar. Original trumpet player, Loughnane never missed a note dancing his way through the night. Ray Herrmann raged on the saxophone and also played many wind instruments, adding a whole new jazz sound to the music. Keyboardist Lou Pardini also would take turns as lead vocalist during the night. The band tore through the album amidst a spectacular multimedia show. The show featured images of the turbulent times that inspired the songs from the first two Chicago album. The production values of the prestigious Southern California venue were in line with the Las Vegas style presentation, including massive sound and lighting as well as the impressive multimedia show.
After intermission, the band returned with renewed energy and launched into the greatest hits set, thankfully dominated by the bands best work, their debut album. Every member of the band seemed to be genuinely enjoying living in the moment, especially the groups three original members. Trombone player Pankow was especially animated throughout the evening, sometimes looking like a dancer from a mime troupe. The second set featured the Reyes brothers playing an intense percussion jam. The extended solo saw the brothers change places as drummer and percussionist without missing a beat.
The band almost apologized for slowing down the beat mid-set to play a few of the crooning pop songs that became hits in the 1980’s. But thankfully the group skipped songs from most of there 36 album catalog went right back into a medley of older Chicago classics. The band ended an explosive second set nearly three hours and 30 songs after they started. The impressive new Chicago band will be playing dates across the country throughout the year including some arena dates co-headlining with REO Speedwagon.