NIAGARA FALLS – Hey, it isn’t easy to dance and take notes at the same time, but I did my best.
I can guarantee this – I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t resist kicking up his heels at the spectacular Earth, Wind & Fire concert in Seneca Niagara Casino on Saturday night. At times, it looked like every able-bodied person in the whole sold-out auditorium – mostly people age 50 and older, both black and white, was dancing up a storm.
And how could you resist? You had a killer band on the stage, with a killer set list, and a big pack of baby boomers who seemed to know every lyric, and acted like they were back in Mulligan’s Cafe on Hertel Avenue back in the 1970s.
“Boogie on down,” the band sang. “Let’s groove tonight.”
Indeed we did, in a 95-minute show that was one of those rare performances that just never seems to lose any of its energy.
If you were fortunate enough to attend an Earth, Wind & Fire concert back in the 1970s, you witnessed magic with the music.
With master magician Doug Henning designing the sets and special effects, members of the brilliant funk band would materialize out of nowhere in their places on the stage. Drummers and their drum kits would suddenly turn upside-down, and the bass player would play a solo while floating above the audience.
Today’s version of an EWF concert no longer features expensive magic tricks or effects, but the music is magical enough. The 12-member band from Chicago can still drive its fans crazy with its unique brand of funk and soul.
With longtime members Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson leading the way, EWF set off a funk explosion that started with the opening number, “Boogie Wonderland,” and was still booming 24 songs later, on “In The Stone.”
Every man in the band is immensely talented, but the standouts are Bailey, whose incredible vocal range seems bigger than ever, and White, the nonstop showman whose outrageous work on bass guitar seems to be the engine that drives the band. Both men are 61 years old and have been playing with EWF since 1971, but they haven’t lost a step.
The show’s highlights included dance hits “Shining Star,” “Serpentine Fire,” “Sing a Song,” “Fantasy,” “September,” “Let’s Groove” and “Saturday Night,” to name a few.
They really were – and still are – wonderful songs. EWF and its brilliant founder, Maurice White, found a way to blend African and Latin rhythms, soul, jazz and Chicago blues in a combination of sounds that made people want to dance themselves into a stupor.
And then, there were the ballads: “That’s the Way of the World,” with a groove that can’t be resisted, and the wonderful “Keep Your Head To The Sky,” “Devotion,” “Would You Mind,” “After the Love Is Gone” and “Can’t Hide Love.”
I especially enjoyed “Keep Your Head To the Sky” and “Devotion,” which were delivered in a gospel style that had many of the black ladies in the audience screaming their approval.
Another highlight was the jazzy, mostly instrumental “Sun Goddess,” featuring an amazing saxophone solo by Gary Bias. That was followed by a short, beautiful interlude on the African thumb instrument called the kalimba, played by Bailey.
And Paul McCartney would have enjoyed the band’s funky, very energetic take on the Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life.”
The last 20 minutes of the show was pure dance music, and believe me, people were dancing. My 58-year-old feet could not resist the beat, and when I looked around me, literally every person I could see was up, too.
“I’ve never seen this many people dancing at any concert,” remarked the pretty young woman to my left.
The one presence that is sadly missed from the current version of EWF is Verdine’s ultra-talented brother Maurice, who formed the band back in 1969 and shaped the sound that put EWF into the Rock Music Hall of Fame.
Maurice White is still the band’s chief adviser, but he suffers from Parkinson’s disease and hasn’t toured with them since about 1994. His soulful voice and great spirit are missed, but the band has recruited several young voices – including Bailey’s son, Philip Jr. – who do a fine job on their own.
It was wonderful seeing so many black and white people, all enjoying the same sounds together. I’ll have a tough time finding a better concert than this one in the musical year 2013.