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Andrea L Conley

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Earth, Wind and Fire - Still Explosive After 30+ Years
by Andrea L Conley   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Monday, March 19, 2007
Posted: Saturday, November 18, 2006

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A summer, 2006 concert took us all the way back to 1976, and what a ride it was!

After more than three decades of revolutionizing R &B, Jazz and Funk, it’s Element-ary

If they are fortunate enough, everyone has a treasured memory from the ‘70s, tied inextricably to a soundtrack including tunes from the likes of The O’Jays; The Emotions; The Commodores; The Brass Construction; Slave; Cameo, or the Bar-Kays.

But where are all those musical icons in 2006? With little exception, they are busy doing things other than concocting the type of rhythms and melodies that sent us into a state of bliss 30 some years ago.One group, Earth, Wind and Fire, has continued to tour and record with only brief hiatus, almost continuously from way back when to the present. To date they have released 23 albums and sold more than 40 million records worldwide.

Recently their tour hit Dallas’ Smirnoff Music Center, and if you were there, you are probably still basking in the afterglow all these  months later. If you missed it, all I can say is bless your heart. Make it your business to get there the next time they come this way.

Although the group now tours without founder Maurice White (it’s enough to make you want to cry. Reese suffers from Parkinson’s disease but still produces, writes and records with the group) and has traded in their ornate, Afro-Galactic costumes for more conservative but nevertheless fly, on-stage gear, not much has changed where the music is concerned.Phillip Bailey may have put on a few pounds and changed his hair, but the phenomenon that is his flawless falsetto is still, I believe, the 8th Wonder of the World. Nary a crack or a croak as he flowed through one mega-hit after another, and another.

There are artists today who are half his age and younger (and we all know who they are) who, without synths and voice augmentation technology, can wind up sounding like frogs and other wildlife when performing live. Not the case with Bailey, who even did a decent job filling in on songs where Maurice was normally the lead singer.

Still, they had to know those of us old enough to remember the good old days would be saddened by White’s absence, so in the middle of the show there was a touching video montage of Maurice doing his thing through the years. Spliced in were clips of interviews where he explained the concept and the humble beginnings of EWF.

Remaining original members Ralph Johnson and Verdine White showed out as well. Ralph shined on vocals while Verdine, ever the long, lanky bassist with the flowing Pochahontas hair, played his heart out, danced, whirled and shook his moneymaker with all the energy and finesse of your average 22 year old. I, for one, was awestruck. Classy female backup vocalists added to the mix, and you could tell this group came prepared to give the crowd its money’s worth (that is, those of you who actually paid the $30 to $60 + to get in, rather than opting for the free lawn seats supplied en masse by 107.5 The Oasis).

There were one or two medleys but for the most part, The Elements segued from hit to hit, performing each nearly in its entirety. They delivered That’s The Way of The World; and the slow-grind-under a black light classic Reasons, after which Phillip Bailey half-jokingly told the 30-somethings and younger in the crowd that many of them were conceived to that song. “That kind of makes me some of y’all Godfather. Just don’t ask me for money” he chortled.

Other blissfully rendered ballads were After the Love Has Gone; I’ll Write a Song; Fantasy and the virtually lyric-free Sungoddess. And every time you thought they were coasting to a halt EWF cranked it back up and everyone, rhythmically challenged Becky and Chip included, caved in to the irresistible urge to get up and shake something. The blazing horn-and percussion-driven Saturday Night, Let’s Groove, September, Kalimba Song, Getaway, In the Stone, Serpentine Fire and Boogie Wonderland kept my sister and I on our feet until we glistened (Ladies don’t sweat. We glisten). And there was also a taste of the new CD, Illumination, with This is How I Feel; and a tantalizing little snippet of their cover of Outkast’s The Way You Move.

By the time the evening was over I had flashed back to high school and prancing up and down the football field in the little bitty skirt and the funny white boots with tassels; I was back in the arms of my first boyfriend, the trumpet player (you know what they say about men who play the horns? Me neither, just playing!); we were campaigning for Jimmy Carter even though we couldn’t vote yet.That kind of reminiscing is therapeutic if you ask me. Good music and a bop down memory lane is medicine for what ails you, my granny used to say.

I am sure I’m not alone when I say that thanks to Earth, Wind and Fire, for a few hours anyway, we forgot all about the relentless heatwave, the obscene price of gasoline, the terror threats against the airlines and various and sundry other tragedies and annoyances we have to live with on a daily basis.Thanks to the ‘elements of the universe’ we took a break to laugh (at Becky and Chip trying their best to get somewhere within the same zip code as the beat – they didn’t make it but alas, they tried) to dance, to remember better days.

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