By Mark Smiley
On Tuesday, June 13, 2017, The Doobie Brothers and Chicago co-headlined before a sold-out crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheater. On a warm summer like evening, the different styles of each legendary band were on display. The folk and country style of The Doobie Brothers who have been together since 1969 got the crowd dancing early. While Chicago utilizes their horn section to give them their distinctive sound. The horns are the key, frequently placed front-and-center and driving the music’s direction.
The show started at 7:30 p.m. with the Doobie Brothers taking the stage with a classic song entitled Clear as the Driven Snow off the 1973 album The Captain and Me. The Doobie Brothers would go on to play two more songs off that album including China Grove. With a solid set list of hits from the 1970’s, the Doobie Brothers closed with one of their biggest and easy going hits from 1972, Listen to the Music. Only guitarist-vocalists Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston remain from the founding group. Without Michael McDonald in the group any longer, the Doobie Brothers in their present form hold their own on vocals.
After playing for just over 60 minutes, The Doobie Brothers made way for Chicago, who is celebrating 50 years together this year. Chicago has gone through many changes in the last 50 years. Original keyboardist Robert Lamm and horn players James Pankow and Lee Loughnane have been with the group since its inception. Pankow who will turn 70 years of age in August, prowls the stage with the exuberance of a 20-year-old, encouraging the audience to dance and sing along. Pankow was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at a ceremony two days after this show in New York City. Lamm and former member Peter Cetera joined him as this year’s inductees.
Speaking of Cetera, the songs he led vocals on all the way up to his departure from the group in 1985 are difficult to match. Bassist Jeff Coffey (Chicago’s newest recruit) does a credible job but the two hits (Hard Habit to Break and You’re the Inspiration) from the 1980’s while enjoying commercial success, are clearly not vintage Chicago. Realizing that, Pankow explained almost apologetically that “something happened in the ’80s; music changed” and a producer (David Foster) steered them in a different direction. The Red Rocks audience didn’t seem to care as it gave them a chance to sit down and take a breath.
Songs such as Saturday in the Park, Free, and the closing number after a curtain call, 25 or 6 to 4 would get the crowd back on their feet. The band played well over two hours without an intermission. They creatively injected acoustic versions of songs that only required a couple band members which allowed for others to take a break. One of which was the 1988 ballad, Look Away now sung by Lou Pardini with only a keyboard accompanying. This rendition garnered a standing ovation from the audience.
Between the two bands, who have sold more than 150 million records combined, left the audience satisfied. “I have seen Chicago in concert eight times” one concert goer, Mandy Thomas. “This is the best one I have ever seen.” This sentiment resonated with many others in the audience. A dizzying amount of hit songs that people of all ages recognize.