Sunday, July 1, 2012

Chicago

Tonight @ BMO Harris Pavilion, Summerfest, 9:45 p.m.

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James Pankow is fond of telling the story of the record producer who told him, “Man, if you get rid of the horns, we'll sign your band.” Pankow, one of the founders of and trombonist for Chicago, likened the advice to telling Elton John to get rid of the piano. Pankow and his band mates didn't follow that advice, creating one of the first rock/big-band fusion groups to wail its place into America's pop music consciousness. The band, founded in the Windy City by students from DePaul and Roosevelt universities, embraced the brass, creating a sound and building a repertoire unlike those of most of its contemporaries.

The group formed in 1967 as Chicago Transit Authority, also the name of its first double-album (and the object of a subsequent cease-and-desist order from the real Chicago Transit Authority over the identity usage). Shortening its name to Chicago, the band became known for its brassy sound and, surprisingly, its popular ballads. Lineups have changed over the years, most notably with the departure of vocalist Peter Cetera. In addition to Pankow, the current iteration includes founders Robert Lamm on keyboards, Lee Loughnane on trumpet and Walt Parazaider on sax and woodwinds. The group remains second only to The Beach Boys among American bands in Billboard single and album chart toppers, and it's easy to tell that, after more than 40 years, Chicago still has the brass to make its own singular musical statement.

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