What Are Your Top 3 Concerts Ever? I Just Added to My List

This was one of those few concerts in your life that you’ll never forget.  And I’ll add it now to my Top 3 Best Concerts Ever!

Top Concerts List in Progress

  • In 1987, my sister and I bought tickets for $5 each to see U2 play the Joshua Tree Tour in Tempe, AZ – a concert which became a feature of their coming video documentary, Rattle and Hum.  We sat the entire length of a football field away from the stage, and still, I’ve never had a more fulfilling concert experience!
  • I saw Paul McCartney in 1990 in Raleigh, NC, and rather than seeing a show, I was transported through time through the soundtrack of my life. I left stunned.*

Before and since then, I’ve seen lots of shows from bands I love – and they were great shows – but they didn’t knock my whole self sideways like these two did.  

I wasn’t considering seeing Chicago in 2018 because when a band forms in 1967, I’ll admit I have doubts for all those predictable reasons that they can’t recreate that magic of the past 50 years.  

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and have lots of family still in the city and surrounding area.  I still live and breathe the Cubs and the Bears, and I’ll never forget the summer days at the city pool, in my basement, in the car, or at a friend’s house listening to hit after hit, year after year, from Chicago.

As much as the Beatles, Chicago plays the soundtrack of my childhood and adolescence.  So when my 18-year-old son bought me tickets for Father’s Day to see Chicago with him, I thought, “OK, this will be a great novelty experience.”  Boy, was I wrong!

Beyond an amazing show (they sounded great), I witnessed musicianship, on-stage camaraderie, and amazing life brought to a beautiful body of work that I rarely see in a concert performance.

Chicago Live in Montreal Sept. 2018
Chicago Live in Montreal Sept. 2018 – taken against the wishes of Eventko.

On this tour, they’re playing the “Chicago II” album from beginning to end for the first set.  Released in 1970, this double album is the foundation for all their hits to come. It establishes the band’s dynamic arrangements that bring the talent as individuals into the spotlight in a way that transitions into an ensemble with one or two others for a few bars, and then sets up wonderful all-band moments where the song all comes together in music that’s rich, sweet, and delicious! It gave us 25 or 6 to 4 and Colour My World.  Not bad for their first official album as Chicago.

Hearing this album transported me to all those places in my childhood and, now as a practising musician playing here in Montreal, I could also appreciate the complexity and significance of these arrangements.  My son couldn’t attend after all because he’d gotten a barrage of homework that week (God Bless a child who makes good choices), so I asked one of my bandmates, a much better musician than I, to join me because a few weeks ago in the car I played him an old Chicago tune, not a hit, and he loved it.  We geeked out at the musical movements unfolding before us!  

After more than an hour bringing “Chicago II” to life, they took a break and came back with another hour and a half of their greatest hits.  Every song a radio hit – each greeted with cheers and many ending in a standing ovation.

Why a Top 3 Concert?

Drums: (I’m a drummer, so naturally first.)  This begins with Danny Seraphine, the band’s original drummer for 23 years, who was an amazing arranger of drums and percussion.  Yes, a great technical drummer, and he added so much more musically to each song that gave them that “Chicago feel”. A few years ago, Chicago toured with another drummer who was crazy-talented, but in live recordings, it sounded like a crazy-talented drummer who was touring with Chicago, IMHO.  He stood out by playing fills and other moments that were a drummer’s dream, but maybe not what the band needed.

Today, Walfredo Reyes Jr, has transitioned from the band’s percussionist to the main musician behind the kit.  He grew up listening to these tunes and he played live with clear talent, passion, and more importantly, he delivered exactly what each song needed. Brilliant!

Vocals: Who can replace Peter Cetera?  Geeez!! The founding member’s vocals are a staple in so many songs – so you gotta try.  Neil Donell does it! Where previous replacements added a bit too much ‘flare’ and often couldn’t quite hit the notes, Neil was spot on (hitting the notes on Questions 67 & 68 … c’mon, that’s nuts!)   And just as Walfredo did, Neil delivered exactly what the song required, and no more.  He was a treat to hear live – what a talent! And I love his bio on the band’s web page, “I consider performing this music a “Sacred Trust”. I understand completely what these iconic songs and these talented musicians mean to so many people and will always endeavour to do my utmost to honor the treasured, musical legacy that is Chicago.”

It was our bonus that Neil’s originally from Montreal, and he threw out some much-appreciated French to the crowd from time to time!  

Camaraderie: I love that the three horns are up front on stage, not back on some riser.  They define the Chicago sound, let’s face it. Remotely mic’d, they’re constantly moving around the stage, playing to each other, alongside other band members, and often focusing on individuals in the audience by playing and waving directly at them.  When trading solos or providing those signature horn movements, they finish by pointing at one another like, “No, HE was great. No, HE was great. No, really, YOU were great!” and they often bumped shoulders, broke into laughter, and pushed each other away playfully, clearly having a good time.  It’s just fun to watch when the band is having as much fun as we are.

My big moment began to overtake me as the band just kept going in their second set.  These ‘old guys’ gained momentum as the night went on and they didn’t leave much of their top 40 catalogue unplayed. This is where the ‘soundtrack’ effect kicked in: Saturday in the Park, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, Just You & Me, Old Days, … not to mention their explosion in the ‘80s.  On the way home, I had trouble thinking what we didn’t hear.

Chicago’s iconic cursive logo was often their concert background.

I didn’t think anything could beat my first concert ever, in 1977.  It was at Soldier Field in Chicago (home of the Bears!), a huge open bowl stadium that seated about 80,000.  It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and my aunt Judy took me and my brother and sisters to see … Chicago! Billed as “Saturday in The Park”, this was the moment when that concert chip was implanted in my head and my heart, requiring me to take this musical drug as often as I could.  I just looked up the setlist from that show and saw that the band played much of “Chicago II” that afternoon as well.  For the record, we passed the joint that came toward us down the aisle of people without partaking because, well, I was 11.  

Imagine my surprise and delight that I’ve come full circle.  Certainly not my last concert, but this Chicago concert was so strong.  I suppose they really are feeling stronger every day! Yeah, they played that, too.

So – in your comments: what were your best 3 concerts ever?

Author’s note:

*To provide my kids with the life experience of seeing McCartney play live, I brought my teens to see Sir Paul at Quebec City’s SummerFest.  Waiting to enter the gates of the outdoor venue, we could hear McCartney’s soundcheck clearly (13 full songs), and he acknowledged our applause with, “Thank you, out there.”   He went on to play more than 3 hours during the actual show. We also went to see U2 as a family a few years ago – again, to share the experience and plant the chip.

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