Chicago: Live in the Heartland!

The Topeka Performing Arts Center (TPAC)
Topeka, Kansas
May 25, 2014

By Jeb Wright

First Set:
Questions 67 & 68 | Dialogue (Part I & II) | If You Leave Me Now | Alive Again | Call on Me | (I've Been) Searchin' So Long | Mongonucleosis | Will You Still Love Me? | Another Rainy Day in New York City | Look Away | Ballet for A Girl in Buchannon: Make Me Smile | So Much to Say, So Much to Give | Anxiety's Moment | West Virginia Fantasies | Colour My World | To Be Free | Now More Than Ever

Second Set:
Canon | America | Old Days | Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? | Hard Habit to Break | You're the Inspiration | Beginnings |I'm a Man | Street Player | Just You 'n' Me | Saturday in the Park |Hard to Say I'm Sorry / Get Away |Feelin' Stronger Every Day

Free | 25 or 6 to 4

Chicago is….
Robert Lamm – Founding Member/Vocals/Keyboards/Guitar
Lee Loughnane – Founding Member/Trumpet
James Pankow – Founding Member/Trombone
Walt Parazaider – Founding Member/Saxaphone/Flute/Woodwinds
Jason Scheff – Joined Chicago in 1985/Vocals/Bass/Keyboards
Tris Imboden – Joined Chicago in 1990/Drums
Keith Howland – Joined Chicago in 1985/Gutiar
Lou Pardini – Joined Chicago in 2009/Keyboards/Vocals
Walfredo Reyes Jr. – Joined Chicago in 2012/Percussion

The band named after the Windy City came to the capitol of Kansas and rocked the house, bringing the crowd to their feet several times throughout the evening.  Chicago dazzled the city of Topeka from the opening note of “Questions 67 & 68” to the final lick of the classic tune “25 to 6 to 4.” 

On this evening, Chicago performed two sets, one flavored for the hardcore fanatics and the other for those there to see the hits.  The first set featured fan favorites “Another Rainy Day in New York City,” “Anxiety’s Moment,” “West Virginia Fantasies” and the mini-rock opera “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon.”  The hits in the first set were “Questions,” “If You Leave Me Now,” “Will You Still Love Me” and “Look Away.”  The latter was a stripped down version featuring Jason Scheff on keyboards and vocals for most of the song, making it an even more emotional rendition than on the album.  When the band kicked in at the end of this song they sent the energy through the roof! 

Set One was jazzy as the horny-guys, Lee Loughane on trumpet, James Pankow on Trombone and crowd-favorite Walt Parazaider on mainly saxophone, wowed the crowd with lick after lick, run after run, and punchy harmony after punchy harmony.  Their lips must have been numb after the third song but they powered through the entire evening stealing the show…until the drum and percussion solo… but more on that later.

During the first set, Loughane told the crowd that soon the band will release a new album of original material that the band recorded in hotel rooms, conference rooms and wherever else they could set up and record over the last couple of years.  The album will be called, of course, Chicago XXXVI and was created and recorded without the band ever going into a proper studio.  He said, “We will play you one of the songs early on in the second set tonight.  You’ll know it right away, as it will be the song you’ve never heard before.” 

The band did trot out the new tune, titled “America” as the second song in the second set, and the crowd enjoyed the tune as it is very much in the classic Chicago style.  “Does Anybody Know What Time It Is” was a huge hit, and when the tune was over, vocalist Robert Lamm addressed the crowd telling those in attendance that the overwhelming majority of Chicago’s recorded history are songs written by the band members.  However, he admitted in the 1980s that a famous record producer suggested they try recording songs written by others.  With that, the band performed two of Chicago’s biggest radio singles “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration.”  These went over well with the crowd, but when the band went back to the good old days and performed “Beginnings,” the energy was cranked up. 

Next came the ‘crowd pleaser’ moment of the evening.  It was another remake, but this was from the classic era of the band when they recorded the Spencer Davis tune “I’m a Man.”  The entire attitude of the band changed and the energy went through the roof, as guitarist Keith Howland showed his wares with a skilled elongated solo. 

The band members were grooving like they were Santana at Woodstock!  The crowd stood up, left their seats and rushed to the front of the arena crowding the stage. 

Suddenly, the music stopped—all but the drums and the percussion.  What came next was a master class in the art of rhythm.  Drummer Tris Imboden and percussionist Walfredo Reyes Jr. were all smiles as they bounced ideas back and forth creating a cool call-and-response themed drum solo.  Before long, both men were hitting things with their hands, their sticks, their elbows and whatever else they could think of.  The crowd stood on their feet in awe of the show coming to life before their eyes.  Finally, the band jumped back in and finished the song.  They stood staring out into the audience and taking in the standing ovation coming their way.

After a return to the brassy “Street Player,” the band slammed out classic tune after classic tune to the delight of those in attendance. 

Everyone was dancing and swaying to the tunes “Just You ‘n’ Me” and “Saturday in the Park” before the crowd sing-a-long moment of the night, the classic ballad “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.”  The band ended their second set with an upbeat rendition of “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.” 

The encore saw the band’s backdrop, the famous Chicago logo, covered up by a giant American Flag as the band slammed out the patriotic tune “Free.”  With one song left, everyone in the venue knew what was coming… yet only the band knew how much of a treat it would be.  “25 to 6 to 4” was brought out and every member had a musical section of which to shine. 

The song seemed to last forever as time oddly seemed to come to a standstill.  This was pure musical bliss, the perfect end to an already impressive display of musical virtuosity.  Chicago finished the song and the band smiled and waved to the appreciative crowd for several minutes before leaving the stage.

Chicago is in a good place right now.  They are excited about creating a new album of original music, and they are enjoying sharing their legacy with their fans. 

They push each other, have fun doing it and love the music as much as those who paid for a ticket.  Not a bad combination, if you ask me.

Look for Chicago to tour with R.E.O. Speedwagon in support of Chicago XXXVI later this year.

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