Saturday, May 10, 2014

Saturday afternoon tunes: My pad is pretty messy

Chicago was a great band in its day. They can't be blamed that, after 40 years of personnel changes (only the horn section and the keyboardist remain of the founders), they sound today a bit more like a fairly good Chicago tribute band than the red-hot operation they once were.

And hot they were. Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chase, and Chicago pretty much defined a genre from the late-sixties/early-seventies: the horn band. But Chase was nearly a one-hit wonder (a couple of years after their one chart-topper, I saw them perform at a frat party). BS&T survived as long as their lead vocalist, David Clayton Thomas, remained with them. But Chicago invented jazz/rock and, even after they became known more for power ballads, they managed to chart in the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties. Not bad.

Their 1971 four-disk "Live at Carnegie Hall" album was a disappointment to anyone who actually knew what the band sounded like (or knew what performances of any kind at Carnegie Hall sounded like) – including most of the band members themselves. The 1972 Live in Japan only became available on CD in the US recently. And there's been a bootleg cassette making the rounds of K-Mart knockout bins since the dawn of bootleg cassettes. And that's pretty much been it.

Until this video, which I stumbled onto by accident this week. It was the summer of 1970, and Bill Graham (yes, that Bill Graham, the man who ran the sacred store where we'd heard the music, years before) was producing a concert series at Tanglewood. As the story goes:
In the summer of 1970, legendary music promoter Bill Graham presented a series of concerts featuring acts including The Who, Miles Davis, Jethro Tull and Santana at Tanglewood, the then-classical music venue in the Berkshires. Taking his crew on the road from the Fillmore in New York City to the scenic backdrop of Western Massachusetts, Bill Graham produced an unparalleled run of shows considered a technical and artistic triumph at the time.

For the July 21, 1970 date, Graham originally tapped Joe Cocker and then Jimi Hendrix to headline. Unfortunately, both acts were ultimately unable to commit to the date. So Graham took a risk, inviting a new band with only a handful of catchy radio hits at the time. The band was Chicago and this opportunity proved a turning point for the group. The Fillmore at Tanglewood shows had become high-profile events, drawing media, industry and large crowds. The new band on the scene had a lot to prove in the headlining slot and, much to Graham's credit and his audience's revelation, Chicago delivered a monstrous performance.
"A risk," he says. Bill Graham took "a risk." Yeah.

These guys were hungry, and ready for their big chance, and it shows. The performance space is so small they were climbing over one another, and bassist Pete Cetera was often not in the frame at all. Doesn't matter. The camera work is pretty good, the sound quality is amazing, and the performances were, indeed, monstrous.

The whole 93-minute recording is here.

For now, this is the encore – their standard encore for years and years, in fact.

Watching Terry Kath beat on the body of his Stratocaster with his fist to hold that sustained note out for a tiny smidge longer at the end of the drum solo is just a great moment.

No comments: