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Chicago gives nostalgia a beat in a great night of classic rock

LEWISTON – Summer and nostalgia go hand in glove. And when that perfect combination means enjoying well-crafted songs played by a legendary band whose legacy spans over four decades, that marriage doesn’t get much sweeter.

The capacity crowd of 10,000 strong at the Artpark Amphitheater in Lewiston witnessed rock veterans Chicago play the Western New York venue for the first time in its history, and the fans weren’t disappointed.

The group’s catalogue of hits is so densely packed that it took two sets to deliver them all to the crowd’s mixture of avid fans and casual listeners.

From the very start, with songs such as “Questions 67 and 68” and “Dialogue,” the nine-piece ensemble brought a high-energy “cool” to the proceedings.

Lead vocalist and bassist Jason Scheff possessed a suave musical charisma that came through clearly in the elastic and pure tone in his tenor voice.

The horn section, as led by the ebullient trombonist Jimmy Pankow, was of course at the musical forefront, the inner gears of Chicago’s clockwork grooves were the main reason songs gelled so well live.

With Scheff’s bass guitar riding the crest of the beat against the subtle syncopations of the percussion, and guitarist Keith Howland and keyboardists Robert Lamm and Lou Pardini providing the indispensable harmonic textures, each song coasted through hook after hook with polished ease.

In mid-tempo ballads like “If You Leave Me Now,” Scheff’s vocals truly shined, with a sound that was perhaps less breathy – and more dialed in, note for note –than the earlier example of former band member Peter Cetera.

As one would expect, the trio of trumpet, saxophone and trombone was exquisitely tight, punctuating each tasty hook with its signature articulation and slender phrasing.

The end of the first set saw Chicago flex its prog-rock muscle with the formidable song cycle “Ballet for Girl in Buchannon.”

The nearly 13-minute smorgasbord of touching ballads and incisive midtempo instrumentals displayed the band’s full stylistic range, and at the top of their musical game. The Pankow-composed “Ballet” was a delight to hear live and will no doubt inspire additional listens in my playlist.

Because of the deadline for this edition, I was unable to stay for the entirety of the second set. This early departure did not preclude me from hearing such classics as “You’re the Inspiration” and “Beginnings,” interpreted faithfully and with great care. By all accounts, this was an early summer evening well spent with a familiar and top-notch musical friend.