We need more bands with horns.
That’s one of the big takeaways after spending a night with the legendary Chicago. The other is an age-old reminder that you shouldn’t judge a band by any specific era.
You’d be forgiven if you grew up under the impression that Chicago was all about “You’re the Inspiration” and other Delilah After Dark love ballads, too young to remember the kickass guitar and horn jams of the late ’60s/early ’70s.
As trombone player James Pankow is quick to remind from the stage, the songwriting journey is a long one that takes artists through different producers and different phases. There’s so much more to Chicago than your parents’ wedding song.
Photos by Erik Kabik Photography/erikkabik.com
If you took a look around the audience who turned out for Chicago’s first night at The Venetian Theatre you’d see a group that’s heard every era, all the way back to band’s politically charged early days. If the opening night crowd was any indication, Chicago’s going to enjoy these next few weeks in Las Vegas.
Pankow, saxophonist Ray Herrmann and trumpet player Lee Loughnane are front-and-center on stage, flanked by bassist Brett Simons and guitarist Keith Howland in the front row.
Behind them are keyboardist/vocalist Robert Lamm, percussionist Daniel de los Reyes, drummer Walfredo Reyes Jr., singer Neil Donell and keyboardist Lou Pardini.
That’s right, there are 10 guys in Chicago. Everyone is the face of the band, which has been part of its appeal (and a key to its success) for 50 years. It’s also helped Chicago carry on after Peter Cetera left to record that song from The Karate Kid II. They’ve always been Chicago, not “Chicago minus Peter Cetera.”
The show itself surprises in that it’s divided into two acts with a 20-minute intermission. Unlike a lot of Las Vegas shows that start early and wrap quick to get you back into the casino, Chicago goes on at 8 p.m. and you’re there for a good two-and-a-half hours. That’s almost unheard of in this town.
The first half is primarily tracks from 1970’s Chicago II, leading up to GOAT hit “25 or 6 to 4.” That’s a solid hour on stage, and you’d think these guys would be exhausted. But after the lights come up an announcement comes over the speakers asking you to stick around for Chicago’s “Greatest Hits.” Bring it.
That gives everyone enough time to run to the bar or bathroom, and get back in their seats before round two.
If you didn’t get enough during the first hour, this is where Chicago really delivers: “If You Leave Me Now,” “You’re the Inspiration,” “Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away,” “Saturday in the Park,” “Street Player”—they’re all here in the second act.
It’s probably more than we deserve, but we’ve always been a little spoiled in this town.
A couple of things to note if you’re buying tickets: 1) It’s an older audience at Chicago, which means fewer phones in the air during the entire show. That’s actually a relief, as you can see most what’s happening instead of viewing it through the screen of someone in front of you. 2) The Venetian Theatre is all seating, so there aren’t too many people standing up and rocking out unless they’re in the front row along the stage. At least everyone got up for the last few songs, it makes the experience so much better when you’re on your feet.
Chicago performs through February 24 at The Venetian Theatre. Tickets can be purchased via The Venetian website.