The 5,000 concertgoers expecting their money’s worth for a double-bill show featuring Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire at the Intrust Bank Arena on Wednesday were not disappointed.
The two groups, both wildly popular in the 1970s and ’80s, played for nearly 3 1/2 hours, drawing upon their extensive back catalogues to fill the time.
The co-headlined show, part of the bands’ Heart and Soul Tour 3.0, worked much better than I expected it to. Seeing Earth, Wind and Fire singer Philip Bailey singing “25 or 6 to 4” alongside Chicago was truly awesome, as was seeing Robert Lamm jamming on his keytar to Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Shining Star.”
Each band was largely comprised of newer members, though each group had a few original members still performing.
For Earth, Wind and Fire, singer Philip Bailey, bassist Verdine White, and vocalist Ralph Johnson still perform.
For Chicago, keyboardist/vocalist Robert Lamm, trombonist James Pankow, and trumpeter Lee Loughnane still perform.
Of note: Chicago’s new bassist/vocalist Jeff Coffey, who just assumed lead duties this summer, sounded pitch-perfect on all of Chicago’s hits Wednesday.
The two bands began the show together on stage, and then each group performed about an hour-long set.
Before each band’s individual set began, Lamm spoke to the audience.
“These two bands traveled a parallel journey, starting in Chicago, writing songs, recording songs and eventually playing songs for audiences all over the world,” he said. “And tonight we’re in Omaha.”
Then came the confused noises from the audience.
“That’s a joke. It’s Cleveland, right?”
The joke seemed to fall flat.
Earth, Wind and Fire’s set, which came first, was high-energy – led by White, the bassist. I’ve never seen a bass player having as much genuine fun playing the instrument than White, who had multiple bass solos throughout.
One of the most poignant moments in the set came after “Devotion,” when a black-and-white image of the band’s former leader (Verdine White’s older brother, Maurice) flashed on the screen for multiple seconds before fading away. Maurice White died in February.
After Earth, Wind and Fire’s set, there was a noticable dip in energy near the beginning of Chicago’s set, which started around 9:20 p.m. Wednesday. By the midway point, Chicago had drawn the audience in once again.
During “Hard to Say Sorry/Get Away,” a good portion of the audience members in the floor seats decided to abandon their seats to stand close to the stage, where they remained for the rest of the show.
About three hours into the show, some members of the audience – which seemingly consisted mostly of people who were fans of the bands during their heyday – were growing tired. A few left early, but those were few.
Perhaps one of the most refreshing aspects of this concert was the spotlight that was often shone on the individual musicianship of each band’s members. Almost every player got his moment (or moments) in the downstage spotlight – even the drummers.
Standing next to his fellow Earth, Wind and Fire bandmates, Bailey, the singer, thanked fans for supporting the band no matter how long they had been fans.
“It’s a blessing to do what we love to do for so long,” he said.
And the audience took it as a blessing to hear these two bands – both in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – play for so long, regardless of whether the concert actually took place in Omaha.