At the Chicago Theatre, Chicago, Illinois: As the entire crowd bounced up and down, hands in the air, one thing was clear: only Earth Wind and Fire could turn the Chicago Theatre into one huge dance floor. While the legendary band is currently touring behind their new album Now Then, and Forever, they also wanted to pay tribute to their longtime fans. To accomplish this, EWF’s September 20, 2013 show treated the audience to deep cuts as well as familiar favorites.
The group fired on all cylinders from the very start: a fiery “Boogie Wonderland” brought the audience to their feet; after weaving in a line from “Fall in Love with Me,” they immediately segued into “Sing a Song.” Sandwiched between these hits was “The Promise,” a cut off EWF’s new album. With its retro sound, the song fit in well with the familiar tracks. Original member Verdine White dazzled with his intricate bass lines on “Shining Star,” while Philip Bailey proved that his powerful falsetto voice has remained intact. Earth Wind and Fire’s unflagging energy kept the crowd constantly dancing.
Throughout the concert, Bailey referenced group founder Maurice White, who was forced to retire from performing due to Parkinson’s Disease. A vintage clip of Maurice played in the background as the band launched into “Serpentine Fire,” with brother Verdine White performing an extended solo in tribute. Nodding to fans who have followed the band for over 40 years, the group spotlighted lesser-known cuts such as “Sun Goddess,” originally a collaboration with jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis. Scatting replaces lyrics in the track, yet the audience sang along to every “ba ba da” line. At times EWF displayed their considerable musicianship, such as Bailey’s extended solo on the kalimba, or thumb piano. They fused this solo into the 1973 track “Evil,” a Latin-kissed track that also showcased their intricate percussion section. “Evil” derives from the album Head to the Sky, and EWF surprised the crowd with a rendition of the title track.
During a quieter moment, Bailey proved that he still possesses an astounding range. Accompanied by just keyboards, he executed several high-pitched vocal runs reminiscent of a gymnast performing several perfect landings consecutively. As the audience cheered, they segued into the fan favorite “Devotion,” an uplifting anthem of unity. At this point, Bailey introduced another new song, “Love Is Law,” which features lovely chord changes. As he sang lead, Bailey paced the stage, occasionally gesturing the audience. Since Maurice’s retirement, Bailey has assumed the leadership position, and his confidence radiated that night.
While the audience responded to the new material with polite applause, they were clearly there for the hits. Earth Wind and Fire delivered with the one-two punch of “That’s the Way of the World” and “After the Love Has Gone,” the crowd practically drowning out Bailey by singing along with the latter tune. The singer once again amazed with his intact falsetto on “Reasons,” belting out high notes with apparent ease. The Beatles’ “Got to Get You into My Life” was given a soul makeover, demonstrating why EWF’s treatment stands as one of the most beloved Beatles covers. Not surprisingly, the room shook when the first few rifts of “September” began, followed by the fun new track “Dance Floor,” and concluding with “Let’s Groove.” As always, Verdine proved his status as EWF’s secret weapon, his popping bass lines underscoring the heavy rhythms of each song.
As the group finished their encore with “In the Stone,” EWF left the audience wanting even more. After four decades, Earth Wind and Fire shows no signs of slowing down, and still know how to excite an audience like no other band.