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Chicago sound still resonates with loyal fans

"We can make it happen We can change the world," the rock band Chicago first sang in the days when Richard M. Nixon was president, young people were angry and revolution was in the air.

More than four decades later, they're still singing it. They still sound like they mean it. And their audience -- mostly made up of folks in their 50s and 60s -- is still loving it.

The horn-powered band is one of the most popular musical groups in American history. It was easy to see why loyal baby boomers love them in a nearly two-hour show in the sold-out Seneca Niagara Events Center.

Chicago is made up of nine creative, enthusiastic musicians who still seem to genuinely enjoy making music. The enthusiasm is picked up by the audience, and everyone winds up having a good time.

It's all part of a formula that, according to Billboard, the entertainment magazine, has made Chicago the second-most commercially successful American band of all time -- second only to that group of California codgers known as the Beach Boys.

Saturday night's show started in high gear as the band opened with a set of songs from their hugely popular second album, the one simply called Chicago. Singer Lou Pardini, a recent addition to the band, set the tone with a strong, soulful vocal on "Make Me Smile," one of their biggest hits.

After some strong solos from guitarist Keith Howland and the superb three-piece horn section, trumpeter Lee Loughnane stepped forward with a fine lead vocal on "Colour My World," the sweet, simple and moving ballad that fueled countless thousands of romances at high school dances.

The backbone of Chicago, and the feature that makes its sound so distinctive, is its horn section -- Loughnane, Walt Parazaider on flute and saxophone and James Pankow on trombone. They're all original band members and all well into their 60s, but none of these guys has lost a step. Chicago has probably done a better job of any other band of integrating horns into rock music. They're the only band I've ever seen who put the horns out front and the lead singers behind them, on raised platforms.

The other original band member is singer/keyboard player Robert Lamm, a wonderful singer who got his chance to shine on three of the band's classics -- "Beginnings," "Does Anybody Know What Time It Is" and the fiery "I'm a Man." I can only imagine how many times Lamm and the other originals have played these songs in the past 45 years, but they still sound like they enjoy them immensely.

Essentially putting on a greatest hits show, Chicago reeled off one chart-topping song after another -- including "Just You And Me," "Call On Me," "If You Leave Me Now" and "(I've Been) Searching So Long." Scheff does an excellent job on songs that require him to sing some very high notes.

Critics of Chicago would tell you that some of those songs are rather lame, but the audience wasn't complaining. Then, on a jazzy instrumental called "Mongonucleosis," band members really got to show off their musical chops. All these guys -- including drummer Tris Imboden and percussionist Daniel de los Reyes -- can play.

They got repeated standing ovations from an audience filled with loyal followers. One woman worked her way up toward the stage carrying a green neon sign that read: "Chicago -- My First Concert -- 34 Years Ago!"

Ending with the high-powered numbers "Free" and "25 or 6 to 4" -- one of the coolest titles ever for a rock song -- the show was a delight.

I do have a couple of criticisms. The sound quality, at times, was not up to par -- too loud and tinny. And it would be good to hear a few more lead vocals from Lamm, who in my book is one of America's most underrated singers and songwriters.

But those are minor quibbles. I've seen Chicago three times and almost certainly will venture out and hear them again when they next return to Western New York.

One interesting side note: Parazaider, who founded the band back in 1967, wore a T-shirt that bore the words: "Television Killed Music."

Wonder what he means by that.




Saturday night in the Seneca Niagara Events Center, 310 Fourth St., Niagara Falls.