You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy™
Not the city.
Not the Musical.
The Rock and Roll Band.
Great only lasts so long.
Chicago entered the Ascend Ampitheater to a life time of expectations, and left waving goodbye to a crowd that was ready to go home.
Greatness is fleeting.
Joe Montana is arguably the greatest Quarterback who ever tossed a spheroid into the end zone. His delivery was seemless, like a ballerina twirling on one toe. He wasted no motion, like Rembrandt, he just fluidly excelled. When he retired from the game, it was not because he wanted to, but because his skills degraded over time. An old Joe Montana was like tin foil that is burned on the grill, full of hamburger grease.
Tom Brokaw once eloquently delivered the news, his rich baritone voice coating my ears with instantaneous information. Then he got old and his speech was like an old Chevy that lost its clutch.
That’s the way it was for Chicago.
This super group of the 70’s with classics like Saturday in the Park, Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is? and 25 or 6 to 4.
The music is a radio staple. The songs iconic, part of the fabric of our lives.
Each note takes me back to a place I’ve been, a moment I’ve had, a memory I’ve not forgotten.
Perhaps that is why Friday Night’s show was so uninspiring. I don’t want to say I didn’t like it, because I did. Any night out listening to live music is a time to celebrate.
But it was the expectation of the moment that fell flat. I expected so much more. It was waking up on Christmas morning and getting coal in my stocking. Sure Santa came, but he left me coal.
That’s kind of how I felt.
Chicago came and left my ears ringing, but with what?
The music was not always recognizable, and when it was, quite honestly, it wasn’t always crisp.
Chicago once blended big brass with electrical rock and roll. It was Herb Alpert meets Jeff Beck. Chicago utilized a percussion that had a Latin flavor that would make Carlos Santana envious. This band at its height was smooth and raucous and inspirational and memorable.
July 13th 2018.
Ascend Ampitheater Nashville Tennessee.
The crowd is filling the lawn, stealing spots in front and behind me that were never designed to be taken.
How 6 fat girls carrying lawn chairs can plop down 6 inches in front of me like that spot is a spot is beyond me.
Note to self: Don’t sit on the lawn anymore without crime scene tape to mark my spot or a stun gun to enforce it.
REO Speedwagon is the opening act.
Quite honestly, I expect Geritol and wheel chairs. I think back to my high school days. The band has hits. There’s no denying that. Riding the Storm Out, Time for Me to Fly, Rolling with the Changes.
But I’ve seen a lot of 70 year old rockers, and when you’re 70 and trying to sing the stuff that made you famous when you were 25, sometimes, well honestly, your shit just doesn’t work.
I watched David Lee Roth stop singing in the middle of Panama and yell at the roadies off stage about some water that spilled on the floor.
“Someone could slip and get hurt,” he yelled during an Eddie Van Halen meltdown, smoking guitar lick.
What the Fuck dude? How god damn old are you?
And that’s what I half way expected from REO.
Old guys doing a summer tour making some bank.
That’s cool. I can dig it. I’m hear for the generational inspiration of Chicago.
That’s what I thought.
REO came out of the gates hard and fast. They were lean and mean and except for some sun spots and grey hairs, these 70’s rockers who can’t tune a piano but can Tuna Fish hit the ground like marines hitting the beach.
Lead singer Kevin Cronin, his white hair and spectacles gleaming in the Music City night, steps to the front of the stage and immediately connects with the Nashville crowd. He speaks reverently about the town as a song writing haven. He talks about being in awe as he stood before the music factories on Music Row, his guitar on his back, dreaming of one day singing his songs. He spoke about loving what he does and that’s why they use their 45 minutes to reward us the fans with their hits. They played song after song that was immediately recognizable and took you back to a place in your child hood.
REO Speedwagon ripped the motha down. I’d never seen them before and was blown away by their power and ferocity and fun and skilled musicianship.
The notes were clear, the songs crisp, and the rockers, well they rocked.
The crowd was up and dancing and it was a good ole fashioned rock show.
Man if Chicago can do that, we’re in for a memorable night, I thought to myself.
It was memorable alright.
But not for the right reasons.
Chicago took the stage and the excitement level was palpable.
This outdoor venue was packed with senior citizens. Baby sitters were on the clock. Lexus parked in expensive downtown lots. $20 dollar cocktails in hand.
This was a big time Friday night and we were ready to get our groove on.
Armed with lawn chairs and blankets and binoculars, we were ready.
Somewhere someone was blasting a doobie and the air was filled with expectations.
Chicago hit the stage and it sounded like Chicago.
Lots of trombones and Sax and 2 drum sets and some fat dude playing guitar and sweating up the joint.
It sounded like Chicago, but it also sounded like Detroit.
“I told you they were going to play songs from Chicago II,” my friend leans over and screams.
I didn’t pay hard cold cash 3 months ago to listen to obscure Chicago II songs.
“They’re nominated for a grammy,” my friend shouts, while looking at sports scores on his smart phone.
Had I known that I was going to Chicago II, instead of Chicago I, I would have opted for a movie.
At some point the financial enormity of the night creeped into my head. $30 dollars parking. $100 dollars in liquor. $100 plus dollars in concert tickets.
And I’m listening to a band I don’t recognize?
I’m not in a good mood. I’m not in a bad mood. I’m just not as interested as I should be. It’s like going to a movie, and not understanding what the plot is, and just staring at the screen.
One song of indistinguishable fusion jazz. Then another song of melodic brass and guitar licks of unknown origin. Finally a 3rd song of esoteric musical hieroglyphics
WTF, I’m thinking to myself.
I prepared for this show by playing a regiment of Feeling Stronger and Make Me Smile.
I didn’t know I had to prepare my ears with the equivalent of the New York Times Crossword puzzle.
30 minutes into this money suck, I’m still not smiling.
My girlfriend seems bored. My buddy is swiping left.
This is just not the way I envisioned it.
I’m not mad. I’m not angry. I’m just stunned.
I appreciate the discipline of this soccer team of musicians.
I appreciate the way trombone player Lee Loughnane works the brass like he’s Eddie Van Halen. It’s suppose to be sexy, but somehow it is not. In a weird way it feels like visual constipation.
At one point, this founding father of this super group stops the show, sweat pouring down from his thinning hair line and he smiles to the crowd and apologizes for the band sounding like a car wreck.
He says something to the effect of We don’t always hit all the notes. And when we fall we fall, at least we fall with you.
Then he smiles and they break into a version of who knows what.
What the hell kind of battle cry is that?
When we fall, at least we all fall together?
It’s like a Blue Angel Fly Over with all the jets flying on different trajectories.
I look to my group and shrug.
What the hell was that?
It was like a drive by shooting to my senses.
I’ve seen Santana here. I’ve seen Heart here. I’ve seen Bryan Adams Here. I’ve seen Roger Daltry here. None of these ancient rockers disappointed.
They don’t all hit all the notes they once did, but they know who their audience is and they eventually brought down the musical house.
Chicago never really figured out where they were or what they were doing. They played as if none of us grew up in 70’s or had a radio.
45 minutes into this show, Chicago finally delivered on their musical promise belting out tunes that made these men rich, that made us want to fill this venue.
But by the time they finally got this musical sports car rolling, I was disconnected. I found myself looking at the city skyline wondering how loud this sounded in Mrs. Johnson’s living room.
What time does the city start fining them I thought to myself on more than one occasion.
I watched the old lady in front of me shop on line. No Shit, people were actually surfing the web during the show.
I watched 2 girls get up and dance, and the crowd behind them yell “SIT DOWN”
“It’s a concert,” the girls said to the anonymous blob of old people behind her.
IT IS A CONCERT – I thought to myself.
So why isn’t it more fun?
Why did the opening group steal the night?
They understood. It’s simple. Dance with the girl you brought to the dance.
If REO Speedwagon had spent 30 minutes playing a bunch of new songs, the crowd would have lobbed rotten fruit at their old man heads.
Instead, they had fun and entertained and gave us what we wanted.
A fucking Rock Show.
Then the legends came on stage.
Chicago and Chicago II are excellent musicians.
I don’t know how Chicago II was suppose to sound, so I suppose the 45 minutes of music I heard was right fucking on!
But when they played 25 or 6 to 4 and other hits?
It just sounded off. An extra note here. A riff I didn’t expect there. It was like a lawn mower wailing off in the distance. I don’t know what kind of lawnmower it is, but I know it’s cutting grass.
I was not impressed.
The band’s slow start to the show made it impossible for many of us to ever get the momentum a good rock show requires.
By the time they started hitting on all 10 cylinders, some in the crowd had gathered their geriatric lawn chairs and left.
I literally watched couples walk out during Saturday in the Park.
Being old and watching an old rock show is a delicate act of timing.
You’ve gotta plan your bathroom breaks just right.
You need to sit where you can see, park where you can walk, and drink just enough not to get arrested.
It’s like taking Viagra and planning a romatic evening.
Timing is everything.
In the end Chicago delivered their hits.
The problem for me is it took too long to remember who brought them to the dance.
While they were busy trying to force me to enjoy their latest incarnation of themselves.
I simply wanted to walk out of the amphitheater, feeling like I got something for my $300 night.
It turns out it was a night of surprises.
REO Speedwagon suprised me that they still bring the rock and roll power chord to the party.
Chicago surprised me that they would have to get up on stage and explain why some of their songs sounded like ten guys breaking dishes in a Tiajuana Kitchen.