Playing in the ‘rock room’ today is the new official release of Chicago, Live In 75, originally offered in a limited run by Rhino Handmade and now made available to a bigger audience to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of the performances. The live two disc set hails from three nights in Largo, Maryland on June 24-26th 1975. The bill was a double one with the Beach Boys (referred to as the ‘Beachago’ tour) assisting in making the performances even more legendary in nature. Another interesting note regarding these performances is that according to the liners, Robert Lamm broke his leg playing basketball before the first evening and had to be lowered onto his keyboard stool by crane after being fitted with a cast. The band never missed a beat as illustrated on the resulting recordings.
The 1975 tour discovers Chicago playing with fire and attitude and disseminating a set list pulling from all corners of their impressive discography. The current LP release, Chicago VIII was on the shelves and the band deftly featured three tracks from their recent output during the show. The original Chicago line up is spotlighted on this recording as well as added percussionist Laudir De Oliveira. The resulting soundboard recording contains a well balanced mix, sometimes a bit squished on the high end and a well chosen blend of the typical set list of the era played excitingly.
The recording and hypothetical concert begins at the beginning with ‘Introduction’ from the groups debut Chicago Transit Authority album. The band ignites the evening with a kinetic and quaking run through the introductory track. Kath and Seraphine are particularly frisky expressing an updated and current reading of a familiar concert classic.
‘Anyway You Want’ follows off of the current Chicago VIII and allows for Cetera to have an early showcase of some hit and miss high tenor vocal attacks. The rock solid groove of the songs framework is tastefully colored by a breathless Kath solo drawn over the chugging changes. The song acts as a sample of the groups recent sonic creations as well as a diversion from the upcoming run of hits.
‘Beginnings’ follows next after being introduced by Jimmy Trombone as ‘nostalgic’ and then commenting that ‘nostalgia is in’. ‘Beginnings’ is played as a percolating percussive stew with poly rhythms whirlpooling beneath the entangled horns. Lamm takes a newspaper clipping from ‘You are so beautiful’ before the song rises to a substantial and well payed conclusion.
‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is’ keeps things in a ‘hits’ mode, as a comment is made from the stage that ‘Terry hates playing this one’. Regardless, its a well played rendition sticking close to the original blue print. The crowd obviously loves it!
‘Call On Me’, the lead single composed by Lee Loughnane from Chicago VII follows next and allows the concert to slide into a warm easy listening groove. The song alternates between a sandy coast verse and a reverberant and bounding outro cadence. The crowd digs it and band is feelin’ it.
The ornate centerpiece of the concert follows with the extended suite of ‘Ballet for a Girl In Buchannon’ played in an accomplished version that accelerates through the multiple musical movements. Cetera is in peak form on his instrument playing inventive lines through well known changes, while Kath directs the multiple responsibilities of the band members. After Seraphine fires off blinding flares signalling the exit from ‘Color My World’ and the entrance of ‘To Be Free’, Kath squashes the effect pedal and discharges a euphoric guitar display resting on thunderous Seraphine tom-tom rumblings. The music splits down the center from the pressure as Kath coaxes a wash of multicolored sonic expression from his instrument before perfectly blending the lines into the ‘Make Me Smile’ reprise. Heady stuff.
Stuffing another new song into an open slot, Robert Lamm comments that the band is going to get ‘a little funky’. He also comments that the band ‘isn’t looking’ if people wanna do things they ‘can’t do at home!’ ‘Ain’t It Blue’ finds Kath in wonderfully smoky throat perfectly echoed by Cetera during the verses. The band sinks their work boots a foot into thick dirty mud with a gut bucket beat and delicious interactions between the driving horn trio and Kath’s wavy and over driven guitar wines.
‘Just You and Me’ brings the crowd back to earth making sure not to alienate them with too many musical expeditions into the unknown at one time. The central part of the track leaves the gentle and catchy melodic construction and enters an erotic zone where Parazaider plays a serpentine saxophone solo that slips in unannounced. Kath employs a warm rain tone through his wah-wah eliciting the tears of loss as well as the excitement of reuniting expressed in the lyrics of the track.
Illustrating the balance between the bands ability to alternate between the poles of accessible pure pop songwriting and space bound jazz and rock improvisations, ‘(I’ve Been) Searchin So Long’ straddles this fence with a leg hanging in each aesthetic. The James Paknow penned number invites the ear in smoothly through Cetera’s blossoming ballad skills, before suddenly revealing another Kath shredding of the theme, then followed by an impressive musical reconstruction.
The steamy salsa sounds of the vibrant instrumental ‘Mongonucleous’ come next, again written by trombone player James Paknow. The dress swaying gusts of horn are the central movement of the song revealing delicious female dancing legs. A substantial drums/percussion breakdown takes place mid song encouraging rhythmic hand clapping from the crowd and a stunning counter attack by Danny Seraphine that results in a soaring expression of his inspiring abilities. The song stretches out for 12 minutes before concluding with a glorious and joyus restatement of the theme.
The third song to be featured off of Chicago VIII, ‘Old Days’ follows, the song is also the third Paknow penned number in the row to be featured. The track begins with an urgent foreboding introduction that reappears throughout the song before emerging into the reflective melodic statements of the verse. The song keeps the momentum that has been created as well as introduces the crowd to another current musical statement.
Closing out the first disc as well as the first segment of the concert the expected ’25 or 6 to 4′ brings the concert to a fevered pitch. The band plows through the usual groove of the song passing through the verses before breaking it down the rhythm, constructing a relentless and seething guitar solo segment the shifts the groove into a lower gear. Kath wraps his hand around the neck of his Telecaster and squeezes trembling screams from his strings before scrubbing the tune to a proper conclusion.
After returning to the stage for more music the band begins the concluding segment of the show with a rendition of the Beatles, ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’. A song that inspired the development of the Chicago creative aesthetic, the band plays a version that stays comfortably close to the Beatles studio reading but retains the recognizable Chicago imprint. Cetera digs into this one. Awesome.
A favorite of the ‘rock room’, Robert Lamm’s ‘Free’ from Chicago III is next in the rotation sung by Kath with help from the others and aggressively circulated by the entire band. Beginning on Seraphine’s smoke signal drums the convulsive opening figure reveals a breakneck negotiation of the song proper. Like a game of ‘whack a mole’ each instrumentalist appears before disappearing so another can employ a musical detail. Kath drives the band with his textured riffing, Lamm’s sleek organ slides underneath the triad of horn interjections like a shag carpet. The track rises into the clouds before crashing in a rippling ball of horn and guitar riffs entangled together.
The early example of ‘Chicago Transit Authority’ in their element and a song that represented the bands early ideals, follows with an expansive reading of the ‘Spencer Davis Group’s, ‘I’m a Man’. The singers alternate verses through testosterone injected recitations of the lyrics. Through flexed musical muscles the band points the way to the beach and allows each instrumentalist a moment to deconstruct the songs internal melodies. Again, the drums and percussion are addictive, leading the band into uncharted and diverse rhythmic territories punctuated by succinct Kath interjections and swells in addition to foundational and fuzzy Cetera thumping. The band hangs weightless at one point before collaborating and turning as one unit, allowing music to sprout organic wings, no member taking the lead while the music organically swells of its own accord. ‘I’m a Man’ surpasses 12 minutes and offers the listener another wonderful highlight.
Just when you think the band has wrung out the musically soaked towel, ‘Dialog’, a ‘Chicago’ classic found on Chicago V keeps the high tempo of the concert apex going at high velocity. Answering the crowds emotional pleading, Kath sirs up the briskly bubbled introduction before being quickly joined by Cetera’s close knit quotes. By the time of the concluding ‘We can make it better’ reprise the entire concert hall has morphed into a celebratory concert review with hands waiving and throats screaming.
The Beach Boys then join ‘Chicago’ on the stage for a finale of ‘Wishing You Were Here’ which understandably so, is starting to show some tiredness on the bands part. Kath takes lead vocals on the Cetera penned track that brings a fitting moment of reflectiveness and introspection to a concert that has been hot to the touch for the previous five numbers.
‘Feelin’ Stronger Everyday’ finally brings the collection to a fitting close, returning to a number well known by the crowd and containing an irresistible melody as well as inspiring lyrical content to send the audience home full and satisfied. Cetera’s straight and falsetto vocal reading is well done. Anthemic in its construction, the song slowly stacks bricks as it builds it way to exuberant high tempo conclusion where all of the vocalists lose themselves in the flamboyant show ending singalong.
Chicago Live In 75 is a welcome anniversary release and tribute to a group obviously under appreciated and often misunderstood by rock aficionados. The era magnified by this release offers a look at a band equally adept at improvising at a furious rate, composing songs that appeal to multiple and diverse tastes, as well as displaying a live stage prowess that few groups could or can compete with. The aural document captures for posterity the original Kath era band navigating the sonic seas, cresting white capped instrumental expressions while expressing crystalline, heartfelt and melodically superior songs of mass appeal. This recording illustrates the eternal strengths of the band as well as combining the dual polarities of their music often misconstrued by critics and fans. The band could do it all, bring the girls to tears, elicit rock and roll hand horns from the dudes, boogie until sunrise and impress the best musicians of the planet. Go pick this one up and find any and all of the musical rock and roll tastes you seek.