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Review: Chicago at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center

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Last night, I had the incredible pleasure of seeing Chicago at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center. I have never been to a show quite like this where the band is rock solid from start to finish and the musicians are having just as much fun as the audience. It became clear why Chicago is known as one of the most successful and longest running rock ‘n’ roll bands in history.

Chicago. Photo by David M. Earnisse Photography.

Chicago. Photo by David M. Earnisse Photography.

Chicago, originally titled “Chicago Transit Authority,” was formed in 1967 and released their first album in 1969. Since then, they have sold over 100,000,000 records, won a Grammy Award, had a street in Chicago dedicated in heir honor, and most recently been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – to name a few of their accomplishments. The band has also undergone many changes in members from their original, founding company (Walter Parazaider, Terry Kath, Danny Seraphine, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Robert Lamm, and Peter Cetera) to their current company which includes founding members Walter Parazaider, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Robert Lamm, Jason Scheff, Tris Imboden, Keith Howland, and Lou Pardini.

To begin with, Wolf Trap was a wonderful venue. There was a large staff, which eased the flow of audience members, and they were all helpful and nice. The Filene Center’s all-wood construction was beautiful. It blended in with the surrounding forest as opposed to intruding on nature. Also, the facilities were very clean, and I highly recommend the chicken fingers at the concession stand.

Chicago opened loud and strong with an instrumental number featuring each of its members. The lights and the set quickly caught my attention with the dynamic videos on large screens on stage and all the bright, colored lights. It was flashy in the best possible way. The graphics and lighting were particularly great during “Wake Up Sunshine.” Once they started singing, I immediately noticed the perfect sound mix of vocals and instrumentals. It is so incredibly rare to go to a rock concert where you can actually understand the words being sung. I give the credit to both the acoustics of Wolf Trap and the band’s sound person. The stage crew also made an impression throughout the performance for being quick and efficient with instrument and set changes. A lovely moment in the show was when the stage crew drew a curtain in front of the platform to create a more intimate feel for a few of the ballads such as “If You Leave Me Now.” The crew accomplished the set change quickly and to excellent effect.

How do you stay young? You keep doing what you love. At least that’s what I gathered after seeing this fantastic ensemble that played with nothing but joy and energy the whole concert.

James Pankow (trombone/vocals) spoke to the audience a bit about the history of the band, its endurance through time, and simply said, “The story continues. We never grow up.” That was evident in the way the members interacted with each other and the audience – dancing and singing along. It was truly an ensemble performance where everyone shone. They were constantly giving each other props for solos, and making sure the audience did as well. However, Chicago determines its set list I must give them credit because the transitions from song to song, ballad to up-tempo were seamless and fluid. Overall, it was a concert that was truly a performance, not just a band playing its songs live.

Even with an ensemble there are, of course, stand out moments for individuals. Lee Loughnane on the trumpet, and Pankow on the trombone were consistently astounding, as well as Ray Herrmann on woodwinds. As a brass player myself, it was an absolute thrill to hear these founding members live. For me, they are what give the band its signature sound.

Loughnane’s flugelhorn solo in “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” was amazing. My dad said of Pankow, “I love the trombonist. He doesn’t play the trombone, he wields it.” Robert Lamm’s vocals on “Color My World” were heart-achingly beautiful. Parazaider also had a great flute solo in the same song. Lou Pardini’s piano solo and performance of “Look Away” was heartfelt and stunning. I know I can’t have been the only audience member who got choked up.

Finally, I thank Chicago for playing my favorite song, “Just You ‘N’ Me” last night. There is nothing in the world like hearing a favorite song performed live by the artist. It is an indescribable feeling, and I thank you.

I strongly urge anyone who has not seen Chicago live to make it a priority. Chicago’s performance last night made me wonder why I had not see them sooner. It was simply incredible from start to finish, and a night I will remember.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with no intermission.

Chicago played for one-night-only on September 1, 2016, at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center – 1645 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For tickets to their upcoming events, go to their calendar. For tour dates and tickets visit the band’s website.

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