with Annie O’Malley
The King Center / Melbourne, FL • 10.26.17
by Christopher Long
The logo is iconic. And the enormous, state-of-the-art onstage video screen backdrop projecting that legendary crest served as a mighty, electrified battle flag – one representing a timeless brand with an impeccable reputation for creating a consistent, quality product.
A band whose music has bridged generations successfully for the last 50 years, Chicago drew a sell-out crowd to Melbourne, Florida’s fabulous King Center for the Performing Arts. Solo singer / songwriter / musician Annie O’Malley opened the show precisely at 8pm. Dressed in a carefree summertime ensemble – a white strapless half-top with pink, floral-print, floor-length skorts, the fresh-faced, sandy-blond 17-year-old delivered an engaging 20-minute performance. Exuding soft-spoken confidence, O’Malley sang along to pre-recorded backing tracks on two of her five tunes, while providing her own acoustic guitar and ukulele accompaniment on the other three.
By 9pm, the chart-busting powerhouse headliner had taken the stage. “We’ve been around for quite a while,” Robert Lamm announced humbly, early on. But tonight’s set list would be comprised of more than the predictable procession of platinum-selling hits from the last half century. And in short order, the co-founding songwriter / keyboardist / vocalist apprised the 2,000+ fans of an upcoming video project which has prompted the band to revisit copious selections from the acclaimed 1970 album, Chicago (aka Chicago II) – nearly-forgotten treasures, such as “Poem for the People,” “So Much To Say, So Much To Give” and the entire 13-minute opus, “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon.” “We’re still learning the songs,” Lamm commented jokingly. “So you’re all going to be our guinea pigs,” he added.
Visually, Chicago’s current stage show is arguably its most spectacular-looking production to date. And despite a recent rather significant shift in personnel, the band’s musical “WOW factor” remained impressive indeed, as the nine-piece combo marched boldly into a cavalcade of much-loved, high-energy staples, including “Questions 67 and 68,” and “Alive Again.”
Co-founding trumpeter Lee Loughnane and trombonist James Pankow both performed on-point – bringing their classic “A-games” along with acclaimed, recently-recruited, full-time saxophonist / flautist Ray Herrmann – owning such standards as “Old Days,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “Saturday in the Park.” For his part, newly-tapped bassist Jeff Coffey was put to the test – yet, proving he was more than up for the task of recreating signature parts masterfully.
Of the set’s numerous highlights, stripped down versions of the 1976 hits, “If You Leave Me Now” and “Another Rainy Day in New York City” both shined as brightly as the gold-plated finish on drummer Tris Imboden’s new custom DW kit. Of “Another Rainy Day,” Lamm confessed, “We play it differently every night.” Another memorable moment, the 1988 chart-topper “Look Away” teamed perennial, smooth-groovin’ keyboardist Lou Pardini with the band’s longtime guitar guru Keith Howland for a warm and toasty first half – then morphing into a powerful, full band crescendo. However, one of the most entertaining highlights of the night was the ferocious, animated dual drum solo between Imboden and renown percussionist Walfredo Reyes, Jr.
Brimming with other such biggies as “Hard Habit to Break,” “You’re the Inspiration,” Call on Me,” “Just You ‘n’ Me” and “(I’ve Been) Searching So Long,” the two-hour hit parade came to a blistering conclusion with the show-closing double-whammy encore of “I Want to be Free” and “25 or 6 to 4.” In sum, if you weren’t a smoker going in to the show, you were likely in dire need of a light on the way out.