San Francisco Chronicle Tue., March 30, 1976
Chicago in the Key of Hokey
By Joel Selvin
No taste is bad taste, or so the old saying goes.
Chicago, an immensely popular rock band which appeared over the weekend at the Cow Palace, is a perfect case in point.
In the hands of the eight musicians who comprise the band, musical boundaries fall away and the result is as characterless and absent of commanding personality as the group itself.
"San Francisco: You're fabulous," screamed trombonist/emcee James Pankow repeatedly. His phony enthusiasm as host set an appropriately hokey tone for the evening.
Chicago was dwarfed by a gigantic stage set, which created a cityscape street scene out of trash cans, street lamps, traffic signs, and one bright "Nick's Pool Hall" neon sign glowing above the drum sets.
The group performed two separate hour-long segments, with a half-hour intermission in between. The sold out crowd Sunday reacted strongly from the first few notes of any of the numerous Chicago AM radio hits the band performed, but mostly sat on their hands during the less familiar pieces,
Vocalist-songwriter Robert Lamm, obscured off the left behind a bank of keyboards, and bassist Peter Cetera, whose vocals are responsible for the distinctive Chicago vocal sound, shared lead vocals, supported substantially by harmony singing from all the band members.
The group interspersed their hits with older album cuts and material from the forthcoming Chicago LP, "Chicago X." "Chicago IX," a greatest hits compilation, has been one of the biggest-selling albums of the past four months.
The band returned to touring after a three-year hiatus last summer with a cross-country baseball park tour with the Beach Boys. Aside from the Oakland Coliseum Stadium appearance last May, Chicago has made no Bay Area concert performances since the vast bulk of their hits made the charts.
Musically, Chicago borrowed madly from any musical form handy: jazz, Stax/Volt soul, New York salsa, MOR pop. The band managed an astounding homogenization; even spicy hot Latin riffs came off tepid and tired.
The entire first half of the second segment was devoted to undistinctive, virtually anonymous instrumental compositions that left most of the teenage crowd listless.
Only the driving final section to "Feeling Better Every Day," which brought the show to a close, boosted interest.