Chicago's nostalgic tunes from 'Old Days' prove a 'Hard Habit to Break' at band's return to Bluestem Sunday
The legendary group pulled from its early albums during a 2-hour show.
MOORHEAD — James Pankow put down the trombone a couple of times Sunday night to address fans at the packed Chicago show at Moorhead's Bluestem Amphitheater.
“Hopefully we’ll play the songs you came to hear, at least the ones we can remember,” Pankow quipped early in the show.
The packed crowd approved of the night’s song selection, which was was largely the same as when the group first played Bluestem in 2019 and played the Fargodome in 2013. Fans would have only been let down if they really wanted to hear 1988’s “Look Away,” but nobody seemed upset that the song had been cut.
Not surprisingly, the group drew heavily from its early years in the late 1960s and early ’70s. While Chicago has released 26 studio albums, of the 24 songs Sunday night’s setlist, 10 came from the first two albums and only three came after the group’s 10th album.
Those three songs — “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” ‘Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration” — came from the 1980s when the band moved away from horn-driven rock and more toward radio-friendly pop. It was a shift that saw the band lose some of it longtime fans but also gain a new generation of fans. Judging from the amount of cellphone lights that came out for the ballad, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” there were a lot of people who slow danced to that song nearly 40 years ago.
Neil Donnell has been handling most of the lead vocals since 2018 and while he can’t quite make the high notes Peter Cetera hit on songs like “If You Leave Me Now,” he showed off some unexpected power on “You’re the Inspiration.”
Pankow, keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm and trumpeter Lee Loughnane are the only members that remain from Chicago’s prime and even in their late 70s, all still sound good and put on an entertaining show. From the night’s opening numbers “Introduction,” “Dialogue (Part I & II)” and “Questions 67 & 68,” the horn players moved around the stage, playing to the crowds.
While Lamm didn’t sing with much force, he still sounded smooth on his signature tunes, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “Saturday in the Park.”
The horn section set down their main instruments and picked up a cowbell, wood block and tambourine for a powerful cover of The Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man” that featured percussionists Walfredo Reyes Jr. and Ramon Yslas take extended solos.
Loughnane took a turn at the microphone singing “Colour My World,” a nice nod to its original singer, founding guitarist Terry Kath who died in 1978.
Current guitarist Tony Obrohta paid his own homage to Kath with the hard charging “25 or 6 to 4” and its electrifying solo. The tune served as a fitting — if predictable — finale for a nostalgic show.
Pankow recalled how when the band first went into the studio in 1969, he hoped they would find enough success to last a handful of years and release a handful of albums.
“We’re still here and so are you,” he exclaimed to a crowd that was as happy to see and hear the band as it was to see and hear the crowd.