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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Chicago @ The Riverside Theater

April 30, 2014

chicago riverside theater
Photo credit: Sara Bill
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A lot of classic rock bands have undergone major lineup changes as the years pass. Styx, Foreigner, Foghat and The Marshall Tucker Band, for example, almost seem like tribute bands these days, with most of their original members long gone. Not Chicago. With four of the seven founding members remaining, including all three horn players, Chicago still sounds like Chicago, and they made a glorious cacophony Wednesday night during the first of two shows at The Riverside Theater.

The current lineup proved why Chicago belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a bold blurring of decade-spanning rock, jazz, R&B and pop. Opening with two songs from the band’s 1969 self-titled debut (released when the group was still called Chicago Transit Authority), original vocalist/keyboardist Robert Lamm acknowledged the songwriting skills of the late guitarist and singer Terry Kath before promising the older-skewing but vocal crowd a lengthy two-set performance.

Chicago played 25-and-a-half songs, only one of which was originally recorded after 1988, a fact that shouldn’t surprise fans who’ve seen the band live in recent years. The half song was “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” from 1973, which was edited down to its final refrain, and the new one was the mid-paced patriotic cut “America,” which will appear on Chicago XXXVI: Now, slated for release July 4.

One of the band’s newest members, Lou Pardini, is proving to be a worthy replacement for guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Bill Champlin, whose voice faltered when Chicago last co-headlined Summerfest in 2009 with Earth, Wind & Fire. Meanwhile, Jason Scheff, who took over bass and vocal duties for Peter Cetera in 1985, appeared distracted and struggled to finish vocal phrases.

But after 47 years, the heart of Chicago is still anchored by horn players James Pankow (trombone), Lee Loughnane (trumpet) and Walter Parazaider (saxophone), along with Lamm, all of whom have been with the band since the beginning. Each exudes a classy elder-statesman appeal, and collectively they deserve credit for keeping Chicago an ongoing entity as the band slowly morphed from an experimental band with eclectic progressive tendencies to a pop powerhouse known for its ballads.

Today, Chicago appears to have reconciled with the past, performing “Saturday in the Park” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” back to back. Parazaider even acknowledged the ballad era, when “we started playing songs written by other people,” before introducing “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration” from 1984’s blockbuster Chicago 17 album.

Zaramela, a young Glenview, Ill.-based band with seven members who clearly takes musical inspiration from Chicago, opened the show with a short set showcasing a fresh fusion of rock, jazz, soul and hip-hop.


Chicago plays a second show at the Riverside Theater on Sunday, May 4. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.