Sax sensation Walt Parazaider

Sax sensation Walt Parazaider

Chicago winds back the clock with hits

Rock legends Chicago perform to an enthusiastic crowd in Kelowna on Thursday night

Not quite sure where my Chicago eight-tracks ended up, but their zillion hits can be heard regularly on most radio stations. And of course there is YouTube whenever I have a craving for Feelin’ Stronger Every Day or Saturday in the Park.

High energy. Soothing voices. A brass section that may one day need a lung transplant. And smiles all night long.

These guys may be playing the back nine, but Chicago can still entertain like they did the last time I saw them live – 1975 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.

A few new faces are in the nine-piece orchestra which wowed 2,128 fans Thursday night at the half-arena Prospera Place stage in Kelowna.

For the record, Chicago’s original guitarist, Terry Kath, died in 1978, at age 31, due to a gunshot wound from playing Russian Roulette, and original bass player, Peter Cetera, left in 1985 to pursue a solo career.

Cetera was replaced in ‘85 by bassist/singer/songwriter Jason Scheff, son of Elvis Presley’s bassist Jerry Scheff. Jason and fellow newbie Lou Pardini, on keyboards, handled most of the vocals in Kelowna.

Original members Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane (on trumpet), James Pankow and Walt Parazaider are still tight on stage and loving every minute of being 60-something rock stars playing timeless tunes.

Chicago, known for their power ballads, reeled off 24 songs and two encore ditties during a pair of one-hour sets, separated by a 25-minute intermission. Sound quality was hardly cyrstal clear, but nobody was complaining. Chicago left the building at 10:57 p.m.

They opened with early songs Introduction, Questions 67 & 68 and Dialogue, all new to me, but still easy on the ears as I joined five other photographers for the customary three-song shoot from up close. Those selections were from their very first album, 1969’s The Chicago Transit Authority.

“We’ve never been here before, but you sure have a groovy city,” said Lamm, a sweet vocalist who also plays keyboards and acoustic guitar.

The set list picked up speed when Scheff nailed If You Leave Me Now before Pardini nicely performed Call on Me.

Scheff then went back-to-back on (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long/Mongonucleosis and Will You Still Love Me? and the crowd began shifting their shoulders back and forth with joy.

They closed the first set with the popular wedding song favourite Colour My World featuring wonderful vocals by Lamm.

“Old days. Good times I remember. Fun days. Filled with simple pleasures.” Skinny trombone superstar James Pankow wrote those lyrics 30 years ago, reminiscing about his youth.

Chicago opened the second set with Old Days. Scheff rocked the huge retro single, getting, as he did all night, stellar support from the brass boys. Pankow was the big crowd favourite as he jumped around twirling his trombone like it was a plastic toy and he was the hired magician at a birthday party.

Those hoping to hear Chicago hits of the 1980s were treated to Chicago chart busters, Hard Habit to Break and You’re the Inspiration soon after Old Days. Nobody sat still during those numbers.

They explained how Canadian producer David Foster suggested the band try recording songs they didn’t write – the entire group was in on most of the lyrics in the beginning – and then broke into Hard Habit.

Lamm then introduced the band, calling sax/flute phenom Parazaider “the really bad boy of our band” and noting that Pankow was “a brilliant composer” in addition to being a terrific trombonist. When Pardini was mentioned, the crowd began chants of “Lou,” as Canuck hockey fans once did for goalie Luongo.

Keith Howland’s lead guitar then screamed through I’m a Man – a surprising choice since it’s a Spencer David Group cover – and the world-class brass boys followed.

Lamm’s vocals gave way to a classic 10-minute drum and percussion duet between Tris Imboden and bongo buddy Walfredo Reyes Jr. First time I have witnessed a drum solo rate a standing ovation.

Pankow thanked fans for celebrating their songs and joked that some in the seats may have enjoyed listening to Just You ‘n Me when they got married or conceived a child.

Song No. 22 on the night was monster single Saturday in the Park. That choice drew the loudest ovation of the concert and quickly got some females in the 40-plus ticket-buying group up dancing in the front row and beside the sound board. Lamm wrote this first top-10 single after he returned from Central Park in New York on July 4, 1972.

Chicago then went to another cheek-to-cheek dancing hit featured in the movie, Summer Lovers, – Hard To Say I’m Sorry – and closed the set with the rousing Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.

Fans only had to shout for about 45 seconds before the boys returned for encore rockers Free and 25 or 6 to 4, one of my favourites which I finally learned is about a songwriter banging out the words just before four in the morning.

Second only to The Beach Boys in Billboard singles and album chart success among American bands, Chicago is one of the longest-running and most successful rock groups in history.

They have sold more than 38 million units in the U.S., with 22 gold, 18 platinum, and eight multi-platinum albums, five No. 1 albums and 21 top-10 singles.

They played Vancouver’s Hard Rock Casino Friday and Saturday night and move on to Save On Foods Memorial Centre tonight in Victoria.