Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire – Live at the Greek Theatre, Blu-ray (2008)

Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire – Live at the Greek Theatre, Blu-ray (2008)

Director: Jim Gable
Studio: Image Entertainment
Video: 1.78:1 widescreen for 16:9
Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, English DD 5.1, LPCM Stereo
Extras: Drum Duel
Subtitles: None
Length: 172 minutes
Rating: ****

Chicago and Earth Wind & Fire were two of the seminal recording acts from the late sixties/early seventies and on, and although I always mentally placed them at polar opposites musically, they share much more in common than I would have ever begun to guess. Chicago was always one of my favorite acts – at least up until the early eighties with all that Peter Cetera strutting his “I can’t wait to ditch this bunch of losers and prove what a dynamic solo act I am” business. I didn’t really care for the musical direction they were taking then and in the aftermath of Peter Cetera’s departure, I basically just lost interest, with the unfortunate mindset that the ongoing group was probably just a washed-up shell of the original band. I was never a huge fan of most seventies era R&B music, and my failure to acquaint myself with the music of Earth, Wind & Fire was more of a sin of neglect than any real dislike for the music, although I was aware of the many hits the group had on pop radio. When I first heard about this concert disc, I must be brutally honest – I was just about flat out dreading the review task ahead of me, especially when I saw the runtime on the disc nearly totaled THREE hours!

It’s one of life’s rare pleasures when approaching an experience with total dread, and then suddenly everything turns out OK – and this excellent concert has definitely been one of those! As the concert opens, both groups are onstage at the same time – there’s got to be almost twenty or more players, and they offer quite an imposing sight. The opening number, Chicago’s “Beginnings,” is played with a unison and harmony that I would have thought damned near impossible – these two groups move seamlessly through either’s song sets with a precision that just amazed me. And when Robert Lamm sings the opening lines, you fully realize that Chicago has always been his band, who needs Peter Cetera, we’re still out there touring and staying relevant. Where’s Peter Cetera been recently, anyway? And out of seven original members, Robert Lamm (the main songwriter and lead voice on many of the songs) and the three members of the horn section (the signature element of so many of their songs) remain intact, so it really should have come as no surprise to me that the group’s sound seemed so perfect and familiar. And I have to tell you, the songs from Earth, Wind & Fire that seemed so foreign to me in the seventies seemed, well, approachable and almost mainstream!

The two groups combine for the first three songs, then Earth, Wind & Fire does a lengthy set, followed by Chicago’s equally lengthy set. The two groups recombine for three more songs and two rousing encores. Watching the two groups apart, it really amazed me how similar their structures were, not only in personnel, but also song structure, with lots of emphasis on vocals and superb blowing from the two horn sections. As Robert Lamm states at the beginning of the show, it’s really hard to believe that it took these two hippie bands with similar musical messages thirty plus years to get together. And did the audiences get up for these shows! The energy level of the audience and performers was astonishing to behold. When the two groups reunite for the final set, it’s just amazing to hear them collaborate on classics like Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and EWF’s “Shining Star.” The real crusher, though, is the finale, Chicago’s “25 Or 6 To 4,” with some amazing guitar work from all three of the combined group’s guitarists; EWF’s two guitarists offered truly inspired solos that just totally shocked me with their level of greatness!

This disc was another of those that in advance I truly felt would be a “skim job,” but I couldn’t stop watching, and almost three hours later I was still truly enjoying myself. From a technical standpoint, this disc is definitely another winner, with superb video and audio quality, and the performances are nothing short of dynamite! It’s truly gratifying to get this disc from Image Entertainment that’s technically superb, in very stark contrast to the average concert Blu-ray (some of the offerings of Eagle Rock come to mind) that are often mixed bags indeed. Although this disc is skimpy on extras, when the performances last nearly three hours, who can complain? Very highly recommended!

— Tom Gibbs

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