PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

PNC Bank Art Center, NJ - 7/29/18
Review & Photos - Rebecca Wolf

The band Chicago, originated in Chicago, in 1967. While they originally called themselves the Chicago Transit Authority, by 1968 they’d shortened their name. The original band included saxophonist Walter Parazaider, guitarist Terry Kath, drummer Danny Seraphine, trombonist James Pankow, trumpet player Lee Loughnane and keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm. Peter Cetera was asked to join the band as a bassist/vocalist later in 1967. 

From the beginning, the band described themselves as a “rock and roll band with horns”. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Chicago had multiple hits and sold more than 40 million units in the U.S., with 23 gold, 18 platinum and 8 multi-platinum albums. They’ve had 5 consecutive #1 albums on the Billboard 200, and 20 top ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2016, Chicago was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2017, band members, Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera, and James Pankow were elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In 1969, after the success of their 1st album, Chicago Transit Authority, the band was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist of the Year. The band’s 2nd album, Chicago II, produced hits “Make Me Smile”, “Colour My World” and “25 or 6 to 4”, and the band was again nominated for two Grammy Awards. In 1971, their 3rd album, Chicago III, reached #2 on the charts and the band subsequently released an album every year throughout the 70s. During these years, Chicago’s hits included “Saturday in the Park” (’72), “Just You and Me” and “Feeling Stronger Every Day” (’74), and “If You Leave Me Now” (’76). This was the band’s first #1 single and won them their only Grammy. In 1977, “Baby, What a Big Surprise” was the band’s last top ten hit of the decade.  Tragedy struck the band in 1978 with the death of Terry Kath, by an accidental, self-inflicted, gunshot. The band was encouraged to continue on and later in ’78 released Hot Streets. This album left the jazz-rock direction of Kath behind, leaning more towards pop songs and ballads. 

During the early 80s, after a couple of declining years, the band’s new producer, David Foster, relegated the horn section to the background, making power ballads Chicago’s new style. This change brought the band renewed success, returning Chicago to the charts with, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” . In 1984, Chicago 17 became the band’s biggest selling album, with two #3 singles, “You’re My Inspiration” and “Hard Habit to Break”. While Peter Cetera emerged as the band’s lead vocalist in the early 70s, by the 1980s he’d also started a solo career. In 1985, he departed Chicago when band members were not agreement with incorporating time in the schedule for Cetera’s solo career.

After Cetera’s departure, the band achieved success in 1986 with single, “Will You Still Love Me?”, and in 1988 ”Look Away” was their last single to reach #1. Changes continued for the band in the 1990s with the replacement of drummer Seraphine. With record label issues, and additional band member changes, the band did not produce new material during these years, but released an album of covers, and a Christmas album. In 2002, a compilation of the band’s career was released, selling over 2 million copies. Remastered versions of all Chicago albums were also released. In 2006, the band released their first studio album in 15 years, followed in 2008 by the release of a previously shelved project and in 2014 released Chicago XXXVI:Now.

Chicago has remained a touring band throughout the years. With their heavy touring schedule, several band members, including Jason Scheff, who took over for Cetera, and recently Tris Imboden, who took his seat at the drums after Seraphine, opted to end their careers with the band.  There have since been additional changes in guitar players and percussionists. However, for the past 50 years, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane and James Pankow have remained part of Chicago and carry on the band’s legacy. It’s the band’s legacy, their hits, that most fans are eager to hear when they come to a concert. Fans want to sing along to the songs of their youth. They want to sing with enthusiasm to the upbeat songs and be touched by the memories evoked during the ballads. However, on this night most fans needed to wait for this until more than halfway through the show, as the band played Chicago II in its entirety before playing their hits. Yes, Chicago II has some of the band’s hit songs, including “Make Me Smile” and “25 or 6 to 4”. However, the majority of the 17 songs were unknown to many in the crowd. It was a warm, late night and Chicago was the 2nd band of the evening. As I began getting sleepy the woman next to me commented, “That’s how we all feel!” While I was relieved to hear it wasn’t just me, that shouldn’t be the reaction to a band with as many hits as Chicago. 

For bands constantly on the road it must be monotonous to play the same songs at every show. They must want to take their less known songs out of hiding to play on occasion. However, unless you are a diehard fan, you’re waiting to hear the hits. And, wait with limited enthusiasm is what most of the crowd did. There was a distinct mood change when “25 or 6 to 4” led into “Beginnings” and the audience knew they were in the greatest hits part of the evening. From then on, fans were on their feet, enthusiastically singing along and no longer falling asleep. Although several band members are new, including the lead singer, the band sounded just like you’d expect Chicago to sound - like a “rock and roll band with horns.” Original band members, Loughnane, Pankow and Lamm continue to have an obvious love for their music, with Pankow showing more enthusiasm than you’d think possible while playing a trombone. Watching the  colorful stage filled with enthusiastic musicians, playing beloved songs from yesteryears is a fun, heartwarming experience. It’s the experience fans are looking for and what the band needs to be focusing on. Go ahead, stick in some of the deeper cuts throughout the night….just don’t do a whole album that most fans won’t know, unless you are hoping they will take a nap.

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