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Chicago rocks the blues away at Shea’s

Sometime in December, members of Chicago will find out if they’ve made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

They’re up against some pretty tough competition. This year’s other nominees include Yes, Cheap Trick, Steve Miller, the Spinners, Nine Inch Nails and Deep Purple.

This much I can tell you – Chicago’s performance Sunday night in Buffalo will not hurt them one bit in their drive toward a position in the coveted rock hall.

The rock-jazz-soul band that has been around since Richard M. Nixon was president and Jack Kemp was the Buffalo Bills quarterback can still rock the house, as they showed the appreciative audience that packed Shea’s Performing Arts Center. If you were looking for a way to wash away the memories of another bad Bills defeat on Sunday, there was no better place to do it than at Shea’s.

Chicago’s show, well over two hours, was a success on several levels – as a look back on the band’s history, as a showcase of the horn-dominated band’s artistry and as a night of crowd-pleasing fun.

The nine-piece band fired up old favorites like “I’m a Man,” “Make Me Smile” and “Beginnings,” slowed the pace with a few ballads and played like a bunch of guys who really, really want to be in the Hall of Fame.

“This is our last public appearance of the year,” said trombone player Jimmy Pankow, “so we’re going to let it all hang out tonight.”

And they did.

Appropriately enough, the band introduced itself with a song called “Introduction,” the very first song from their very first album, released in 1969. The rollicking song still sounded fresh and fun as the band ripped into it. Robert Lamm, the oldest band member at age 71, led the way with a strong and soulful vocal. Pankow and trumpeter Lee Loughnane played short, classy solos and lead guitar player Keith Howland showed his chops on a solo that was almost worthy of the band’s original guitarist, the late great Terry Kath.

After that, the band was off and running with one memorable song after another – the very cool “Questions 67 and 68,” the thought-provoking “Dialogue Part 1 and II” and the sweet and sad “If You Leave Me Now.”

Every single player in this band is a major talent, but it is the killer three-man horn section that gives Chicago its distinctive sound. Chicago put rock horn bands on the map back in the late 1960s, and no other band has topped them.

Sunday night’s horn section was made up of Pankow and Loughnane – two original band members still full of energy in their late 60s – and Ray Hermann, filling in for the ailing Walter Parazaider. Hermann did a superb job on saxophone, flute and backup vocals.

Chicago has three excellent lead singers – Lamm, keyboard player Lou Parini and bassist Jason Scheff. Lamm and Parini were at their best Sunday night, but Scheff struggled at times.

In fairness to Scheff, he has the hardest job in the band, handling the most difficult vocals – high-pitched love songs like “Just You and Me” and “You’re The Inspiration” that had to be written with a much younger voice in mind. Scheff, who is 53, tries his hardest and hits most of the notes, but not all of them.

Scheff and the band really hit a groove on the jazzy, Santana-esque instrumental “Mongonucleosis,” which featured some great percussion work from drummer Tris Imboden and percussionist Walfredo Reyes Jr., who, not surprisingly, used to play with Santana.

About an hour into the show, there was a very nice, intimate section featuring first Scheff, then Lamm, then Parini performing some very pretty ballads, with minimal accompaniment. Parini’s “Look Away” may have been the strongest vocal of the whole show, but Lamm’s “Another Rainy Day in New York City” was also excellent.

Loughnane sang beautifully on his one and only lead vocal, “Colour My World,” which was first released some 45 years ago but still ranks as one of the simplest, prettiest ballads ever put forward by any rock band.

After a brief intermission, guitarist Howland had a real chance to shine with a rafter-rattling extended solo that led into another popular hit, “Old Days.”

For my money, the band’s two best songs – “Beginnings” and “I’m a Man” – drew big ovations, and the huge hits “Saturday in the Park” and “25 or 6 to 4” had the audience on its feet and clamoring for more.

Chicago did what Chicago always does – play the hits with heart and soul. The next time I write about them, I hope I can call them, “Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.”

They deserve it.

email: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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