Thursday, July 7, 2016

Chicago concert review: Hollywood, Calif.

photo by Drew A. Kelley/for the OC Register
Horns and the Hollywood Bowl are a perfect match. Brass instrument sounds soar through the famed outdoor venue as few others do.

Add some top-notch ensembles and fireworks and you have all the ingredients for a very special summer night.

That was the case Saturday, when Chicago made its first L.A. appearance since being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April.

The pop/rock hit makers are touring behind a 2014 studio album (“Now”) and a new documentary (“Now More Than Ever”), which recently screened at selected film festivals.

Next year, Chicago marks its 50th anniversary. Anchored by three original members (singer/keyboardist Robert Lamm, trombonist/vocalist James Pankow and trumpeter/vocalist Lee Loughnane; a fourth, multi-instrumentalist Walt Parazaider, is not currently on tour with them), the nine-piece band was in fine form.

Half of its vibrant 75-minute set (accompanied by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra) came from the eponymous 1969 album and the following year’s “Chicago II.” The brass trio was quite animated all evening, constantly traversing the stage.

“Questions 67 & 68,” with co-lead vocals by Lamm and bassist Jeff Coffey (subbing for Jason Scheff, whose management representative said had taken time off due to family health issues) was an exciting early highlight. The Pankow-penned suite “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” (encompassing Top 10 hits “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World”) gave second keyboardist Lou Pardini a chance to show off his soulful pipes.

Many concertgoers at the packed venue wore patriotic hats and waved lighted items. Fans danced to “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” as the orchestra’s string section provided a sweet melodic undertow.

Drew A. Kelley
“We started out as an organic funk and psychedelic band,” Lamm told the audience. “No one knew what to do with us, but it all worked out. Thanks to those who helped vote us into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

From there, Coffey did an admirable vocal job on the big ’80s hit ballads “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration” (the latter’s opening keyboards drew howls from the crowd, which turned into a loud sing-along; the orchestra’s sublime violins were a welcome addition).

The shuffling “Beginnings” was a standout with Lamm’s easygoing vocals, plus Chicago’s wild brass solo and Latin percussion ending. “Just You ‘n’ Me” got an enthusiastic response, while “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” prompted fans to wave their lighted cellphones. A heartfelt “Saturday in the Park” and its key lyric about the Fourth of July brought the house down.

The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra provided the soundtrack to the fireworks display. Chicago returned to encore with a fun, rocking version of its signature 1970 hit single “25 or 6 to 4.”

A patriotic-themed half-hour set by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra started the evening off, featuring “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a color guard procession from Edwards Air Force Base. The orchestra did glorious renditions of “American Salute,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “America the Beautiful” and “Armed Forces Salute.”

Engaging conductor Thomas Wilkins – who provided whimsical song introductions – urged audience members to stand if they had a personal connection to any armed service branch’s theme. Several did, resulting in an emotional moment. Wilkins noted that the orchestra had debuted exactly 25 years ago with the same intro, “Strike Up the Band.” U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West also joined on a few songs.

My review originally appeared at

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