LAST NIGHT’S JAM: Earth, Wind & Fire – October 15, 2014
Formed in 1969 by Maurice White, Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) has forged an identity for itself founded on their amalgamation of funk, jazz, Latin, African, R&B and soul influences that have adapted well over the years to varying social trends like disco and pop. White’s indelible touch on the outfit has been a calculated approach balancing musicality, vocal talent and showmanship. Maurice originally played the tenor to Philip “The Voice” Bailey’s four octave range and immediately recognizable falsetto before taking leave of the band due to his diagnosis with Parkinson’s. Other longtime members Verdine White (bassist and Maurice’s younger brother) and vocalist/percussionist Ralph Johnson have since stepped up the band’s first-line presence with performances built around the trio.
Verdine’s bass playing – energetic, frenetic, deliberate and thick – is one of funkdom’s cultural treasures. I had the opportunity to chat with him back in 2010 and he’s as down to earth and cool as he is a toothy whirling dervish on stage. Last night’s performance was another EWF pleaser. As a band whose sound has always revolved around positivity and a sense of community, it is hard to sit still and not be infected by their sheer joy. While some might think that time and their busy schedule has slowed them down a bit, let me be the first to point out how wrong that notion is concerning them. This was my fourth time seeing them live and the only pointed difference that I have noticed over the years has been how certain songs have been adapted live.
They’ve never, to my eyewitness knowledge, ever dropped the ball on energy and fun. You get yourself a ticket when they come to town, you’ll have yourself a show. TuffGnarl.com friend and supporter Patti was kind enough to hook a brother up with a ticket and though we were seated in the back, the Seminole Hard Rock’s never disappointed in sound quality or stage visibility.
Bailey, White and Johnson were joined on stage by Bailey’s son, Philip Jr. who has taken on a livelier role in the band since I last saw him in ’10, dynamo drummer and fixture since ‘01 John Paris, the EWF horns and Myron McKinley among others. Hits like longtime set opener “Boogie Wonderland,” “Getaway,” “Fantasy” and the always beautiful to hear “Kalimba” were properly represented. “September,” arguably the greatest song in the world for reasons only my mother will understand was rendered with gusto and the one truly shining thing that ever came of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film, their cover of “Got to Get You into My Life.”
“Reasons” is the signature tune in which Bailey’s voice, The Voice truly shines and over the years he has held back a bit when it comes to the part were those ranges get explored and the band performs a longer intro, which is cool. They also pulled a coda into it with the Hal Davis/Burt Bacharach 1965 tune “What the World Needs Now is Love.” They closed with a quasi-medley of “Dance Floor” and “Let’s Groove” before an encore of “In the Stone” – a satisfying end to another, immensely satisfying live performance by one of America’s greatest musical treasures.
Partial set list:
“Sing a Song”
“Let Your Feelings Show”
“On Your Face”
“Head To The Sky”
“That’s the Way of the World”
“After the Love Has Gone”
“Got to Get You into My Life”
“In the Stone”
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