For three days, from July 2nd until the 4th, the band Chicago, which formed nearly 50 years ago, and has since sold over 100 million albums, shimmered and shined inside the more-beautiful-than-ever Hollywood Bowl. One might even say that the performers saved a little more oomph for their last showing on the fourth since it is, after all, the anniversary of America’s freedom from the manacles of British rule in 1776. Needless to say, the 65-degree, breezy evening portrayed the perfect slice of Americana, featuring one of the most successful homegrown groups inside one of the most historic amphitheatres in the world.
For nearly three hours, a capacity-filled throng of 17,500 – clad in patriotic red-white-and-blue shirts, bows, and hats – were respectful at all times, listening intently to the words of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conductor, Thomas Wilkins, as he spoke to the audience like a close friend would, orchestrating his arms to the prideful tunes of “America the Beautiful,” and of those from each branch of American service. And thus, the veterans in the audience would duly stand in a glow of honor, saluting their fellow servicemen and women when the anthems of the Navy, Army, Air Force, and more, were played.
Soon, Chicago made their way to the stage to join the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The Hall of Famers were as musically adept and acute as ever, rousing the sea of humanity with one hit after another. All nine members were present, with the exception of Jason Scheff, who was being subbed for by Jeff Coffey. The band faired just fine, however, with Coffey doing a remarkable job on ballads such as “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “You’re the Inspiration.” His soaring, tenor voice was a seamless fit, reaching the ears of even those in the very back row of the Bowl.
The song “Make Me Smile” highlighted the proficient and prolific instrumental capabilities of the band. Even after five decades, there was no sign of fatigue, wear, or mortality, as each individual defied time, and proceeded to sway the attendees with a recognizable rhythm. Trombone-player Jimmy Pankow was notable in his tireless vivaciousness, living the notes as he played them.
Punctuating the occasion was Chicago’s finale for the night, “25 or 6 to 4,” which followed a bedazzling array of fireworks overlooking a star-spangled-hued bowl. Undoubtedly, the horn and heavy-beated instrumentals swooned the thousands who rose to their feet and allowed themselves to be absorbed in the splendor of Independence Day. In addition to Pankow, Lee Loughnane (trumpet), Tris Imboden (drums), Walfredo De Los Reyes, Jr. (percussion), Coffey (bass), Keith Howland (guitar), and Ray Herrmann (saxophone) brought their venerable wares to the forefront for the last song.
Furthermore, Rock legend Robert Lamm came across reassuringly as a man at peace with his craft during “Beginnings,” when he effortlessly crooned while playing his keyboard. Suffice it to say, at 71 years young, Lamm is as cool as ever – a throwback to the classic heyday of rock ‘n’ roll. For “Call on Me,” Lou Pardini rustled the hearts of onlookers with his hallmark gritty voice that continues to be gripping yet appropriately buoyant at times. Certainly, there was a feeling of fervor in the air when Pardini would triumphantly torque his head for a vibrant vocal in conjunction with each keystroke.
The fireworks, though lasting only a brisk ten minutes, provided a colorful, but more importantly, safe display of poignant pageantry. When the words, “Liberty,” “America,” and “Justice” lit up amid pinwheels that burned brightly with each revolution, every one of the 17,500 individuals had to feel proud to be an American on a night that celebrated the country’s birth.
For future events at the Hollywood Bowl, visit hollywoodbowl.com
For more information about Chicago, visit chicagotheband.com