Chicago - Still the Same San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Chicago - Still the Same
San Francisco Chronicle (CA) (Published as THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE) - July 20, 1987Browse Issues
Author/Byline: JOEL SELVIN
Section: DAILY DATEBOOK
Readability: >12 grade level (Lexile: 1490)
an unremitting near-two-hour barrage of syrupy ballads, it took Bill
Champlin to finally pull the pin on the performance by Chicago at
Mountain View's Shoreline Amphitheatre on Saturday and finally set off
Of course, these plodding, fanciful love songs have
been the bland pop-rock band's main stock-in-trade throughout Chicago's
almost 20-year career, but the steady stream of anguished pleas hardly
makes for exciting concert material.
So when vocalist Champlin finally got the chance to
whip out his patented, grizzled soulese, the crowd leaped to their feet
as though an electric cattle prod had been applied simultaneously to
their collective backside. Champlin stalked the stage, preaching like a
Baptist deacon, leaping to the floor to work the crowd from its midst.
Suddenly, it was like a different band.
Unfortunately, Chicago went back to being its same
old self immediately after Champlin finished demolishing "We Can Make It
Actually, it was like there were two bands onstage
at Shoreline. Chicago performed two sets, the first concentrating on
earlier material and the second focusing on what singer Bobby Lamm
called "the Warner Brothers era," referring to the record label for
which the long-standing pop-rockers have recorded for the past five
Under the supervision of sleek, glib
producer-songwriter David Foster, Chicago has managed to continue to pop
out slick chart-topping hits with regularity, even if the group's sound
under Foster's heavy-handed influence has tended toward a dry sameness,
with precious little messing with the successful formula.
So the first half featured a brassy sound almost
entirely at odds with the synthesizer-dominated attack of "the Warner
Brothers era" material. The Foster sound depends greatly on thickly
layered keyboard parts, occasionally calling for no fewer than four
musicians to operate synthesizers (with drummer Danny Seraphine playing
synthesized drums, no less).
Not that the band didn't display considerable musical
chops. Musicians casually switched off instruments on every number,
falling into new formations on each tune like a football team hitting
the line of scrimmage.
Bassist Jason Sheff, who last year replaced PeterCetera, the band's former bass player and main lead singer, uncannily duplicated the trademark tenor Cetera plied to Chicago's sticky ballads. In fact, one fan carried a sign in the audience reading "Peter
Who?" Sheff popped and clicked out difficult bass lines with ease and
grace, in tandem with drummer Seraphine, providing the group's
distinctive bottom end sound.
Sheff and Lamm traded most of the lead vocals, with
Champlin, a veteran of Bay Area rock stalwarts the Sons of Champlin,
adding only occasional leads. The three-man horn section, who seemed
virtually dispensable during the second half, polished the sound with
rippling accents and occasional solos.
But, ultimately, the musicianship fell victim to the
banal, bland and boring material to which it was applied. While the
solidly white, suburban crowd lapped it up like happy puppies, time wore
heavy on the hands of anyone expecting any genuine excitement out of
That Chicago has endured through 18 albums -each
imaginatively titled by consecutive numbers - is a minor miracle in
itself in the ephemeral world of pop music. By sculpting a popular style
and doing it to death, the group obviously has cut a niche for itself
that nothing can budge.
Clearly, Chicago is a commercial proposition, not a
group of free spirits expressing themselves for the love of music, but a
band of cunning professionals who know how to make a good living.
Champlin (at keyboards, left) provided a spark to Chicago's show at
Shoreline Amphitheatre on Saturday night; the band's new bassist Jason
Sheff is in the foreground / BY DEANNE FITZMAURICE/ THE CHRONICLE