Chicago's Big Brass Sound is Still Electric

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James Pankow, left, and Lee Loughnane, right.
  • Andrew Crisp
  • James Pankow, left, and Lee Loughnane, right, perform at the Morrison Center Sunday.

Legendary American rock band Chicago took to the Morrison Center stage Sunday, Sept. 16. Though the lineup has changed considerably over the last four decades, the band had more energy than the electrified lines of the Chicago Transit Authority, from which the group swiped its name.

Bathed in purple stage lighting, saxophonist Ray Herrmann, trumpet player Lee Loughnane and trombone player James Pankow rushed to form a line at the front of the stage, their horns emanating a golden, brassy sound.

Chicago's music has a reputation for helping set the mood. Before launching into "Just You 'n' Me," Pankow wiped his lips and spoke into the microphone.

"We like to think of this song as having two audiences," said the 65-year-old Pankow. "One that got married to it, and one that got conceived to it."

The nine-member band moved through some of Chicago's most successful songs, including hits like "Old Days" and "Saturday in the Park," which were penned with the band's original lineup, before Peter Cetera left to pursue a solo career.

Though only songwriter and keyboardist Robert Lamm, Pankow and Loughnane remain of the original members, more recent additions paid tribute to the band's classics. Guitarist Keith Howland picked twanging chords during "Old Days," before injecting his own style into a solo.

When Chicago arrived at the doe-eyed love song, "If You Leave Me Now," a special guest audience member, Chuck Faylor, was asked up.

"As you know, we partner with the American Cancer Society," said Loughnane. "The highest bidder gets a chance for two seats in the front row, to come back stage, we sign some autographs and tell some stories, and then they get to come sing on stage with us. We have one of those lucky winners tonight."

Faylor bounded on stage in a pink button-up shirt and jeans, his hands already shaking slightly as he palmed the microphone and stood next to bassist Jason Scheff.

"When tomorrow comes then we'll both regret / the things we said today," Faylor crooned nervously before blowing a kiss to his wife in the front row.

Though Chicago played their popular love ballads, they never shied away from going all out on their rocking hits. At the end of "I'm a Man," percussionist Wally Reyes and drummer Tris Imboden duked it out in a huge drum solo, which had both men pounding their sticks against every surface in their considerable sets.

On their feet throughout the last handful of songs, the audience beckoned Chicago back to the stage for an encore. They chose "25 or 6 to 4," with all the brass players shimmying about the stage, to end the evening.

A large American flag unfurled at the back of the stage for the big band encore.

From left to right, Ray Herrmann, Lou Pardini, James Pankow, Tristan Imboden, Lee Loughnane and Wally Reyes.
  • Andrew Crisp
  • From left to right, Ray Herrmann, Lou Pardini, James Pankow, Tris Imboden, Lee Loughnane and Wally Reyes.

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