Chicago it seems have been touring almost as long as I’ve been breathing. 47 Years of touring would be a good reason to go onstage for 90 minutes, play the old hits, and stay at the venue just long enough to count the takings. Playing for over two hours, and actually seeming to still enjoy it? Welcome to the first concert of the 2014 Kunst!Rasen season – welcome to Chicago!
So what’s changed at Bonn’s premier Open-air music venue since the trials and tribulations of last year’s season? Lots of water filled plastic containers stacked around as sound baffles. They baffled the photographers too – who preferred shooting from outside the photo-pit, where you could see more than just heads and shoulders. Do they work? time will tell. A 6pm start is also achange. At least we don’t have to stand in what seems like the heat of the mid-day sun (okay, it might have been hotter at mid-day, but it couldn’t have been sunnier when the eight men tried and true that make up the 2014 incarnation of US multi-million selling band Chicago took the stage). The very first number was rather logically titled ‘Intro’ which is actually about as far back in the band’s catalogue as you can go – from their very first disc in fact. Are we going to hear their entire repertoire? The latest release is titled Chicago XXXVI so I suspect we would be here for the entire Kunst!Rasen season 24 hours a day to manage that feat.
They do take a pretty good stab at covering 47 years worth of music though as the two and a quarter hour set testifies. Twenty eight tracks in all. I think back to a concert some years ago by a rising female jazz singer (no name!) who delivered a set-list to the press that was written in large capitals on a sheet of A4 with lots of space between and okay, there are nine men in Chicago’s Band this evening, and okay, they change vocalist/keyboards with alarming regularity – but apart from an elongated drum solo (they were hitmakers from the late 70’s after all) – they all remain onstage throughout. The big hit, ‘If You Leave Me Now’ is actually fifth in the set – as if they were thinking “Let’s get IT over with and get on to more interesting things!” Jason Scheff’s vocal sounded to my ears anyway a little bit tired of the song (for trivia collectors Scheff is the son of Elvis’ bassist Jerry Scheff) and it has been a must for their set since Peter Cetera first wrote and sung it for them in 1979. ‘Hard to say I’m Sorry/Get Away’ on the other hand does make it to the end of the set and for many it’s these two numbers that epitomize Chicago’s sound.
It does seem hard to believe, listening to tonight’s keys and horn driven set, that Chicago once had one of the best guitar players in Rock at their disposal. Terry Kath ended his life in 1978, seemingly after ‘playing’ with a handgun that turned out not to be empty as he’d thought. It may well have added fuel to the belief that ’25 or 6 to 4′ was a typical Rock song by a typical Rock band about drugs. Anyone here at Bonn Kunst!Rasen in 2014 would more likely subscribe to the claim by writer Robert Lamm that it’s really about trying to write a hit song at 25 or 26 minutes before 4am. This is plainly a songwriters Band, and always has been. It’s what Chicago do best – perfectly crafted Pop lyrics and licks like ‘Look Away’ from Lou Pardini which received deserved applause at Kunst!Rasen. Super simple but super effective Lines like “When we both agreed as lovers, we were better off as friends”. Jason Scheff brought similar goosebumps with ‘Will You Still Love Me?’
Goosebumps were not in abundance, for me anyway, on the ballad ‘America’ from the recent release.
“’Cause this is America,
America is free
America is you and me!”
America in 2014 is clearly not you and me, It’s what those in power decide it needs to be. It’s not free either – just ask those in need of medical treatment. I know it’s supposed to be about urging people to right the political wrongs. It needs listening to though – and as Bruce’s ‘Born in the USA’ taught us, listening to is not what people do enough of lyric-wise. Still, these guys are making statements after 47 years – kudos on that basis. The Sex Pistols might have called the Queen a moron – but where are they 37 years later?
A Chicago review would be incomplete of course without mention of the horn section. I particularly liked Sax player Hermann’s contribution. Could this guy be a stunt double for Arnie Schwazenegger? These guys may not be the youngest horn section around but they must still be one of the brightest.
In the end it wasn’t 25 or 6 to 4 when the set finished, but a rather light and early 8.15pm. At 8.16pm the first raindrops fell and at 8.17pm the leaves were being blown forcibly from the trees surrounding Kunst!Rasen’s green and pleasant surroundings. I was home by 8.45 and could hear music from neighbouring houses until late into the night. Maybe someone was playing Chicago somewhere? A strange world where records are allowed but originals are not. There were around 1500 people for this excellent evening of top music by one of the world’s bestselling bands. Please pencil in a visit to at least one of the remaining Kunst!Rasen shows – CONCERT SCHEDULE HERE or neighbours playing CD’s through open windows may be all that’s left of live open-air music in Bonn. On the evidence of this evenings show that would be a very sad thing indeed.