Chicago 26 - Live In Concert


Chicago Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Tommy Johnson


"I suppose that after 30-something platinum albums and just as many years of touring, you would expect these guys to simply go through the motions and play the old hits, but nothing could be further from the truth. Every show I recorded was treated as if it was their last show - I never heard anybody perform at anything less than stellar levels." - Ted Perlman, engineer of Chicago 26

Chicago has had hits in four decades, with over 120 million albums sold, more than 20 Top Ten hits and five albums on the top of the American sales-charts. This makes Chicago one of the most popular American bands of all time. It all started in 1969, now the year is 2002 and Chicago's working on their 27th album.

However, the most recent Chicago recording is Chicago 26, released in 1999. Chicago 26 is a live album with three new songs at the end of the disc. Since the last live album they did was over 30 years ago ( Chicago IV: Live At Carnegie Hall in 1971) it was due that a Chicago live album with the current configuration was made.

The CD kicks off with the 1971 classic "Ballet For A Girl In Buchanon", a suite that includes some of Chicago's most well-known songs, such as "Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World." This 12 minute "Chicago theme" was probably the best way to start the cd. "The Ballet" has a great mixture of strong vocals and powerful horns. The backside of this strong start, is that it seems like the rest of the live-tracks can't hold the same quality as the beginning.

Of the remaining nine songs, the newest one is from 1984 ( Chicago 17). Ex-member Peter Cetera originally sang most of these songs, and Jason Scheff are doing them now. Jason, the son of Elvis Presley's bass player Jerry Scheff, is a very talented bassist / singer. But with these songs, that once were so connected with the distinctive voice of Cetera- it almost sounds like Peter Cetera karaoke.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

However, the band is really tight, and Sons of Champlin member Bill Champlin, is doing a great job behind the Hammond B3. The Chicago line-up of today is probably the best one they've ever had, musically. Jimi Hendrix once said to Chicago, "Your horns are like one set of lungs, and your guitar player… He's better than me". The last comment was made about the late Terry Kath. Since the death of Kath back in '78, the band has had three different guitarists. Keith Howland has been the guitarist of Chicago since 1995, and he's the best one that they've had since the days of Kath. He does what has to be done- nothing more, nothing less. My only complaint is that there's only one lead vocal song with Robert Lamm ("Beginnings"), and one and a half with Champlin.

How Jason Scheff can sing harmonies with himself is a mystery, but in the days of overdubs... I guess we have to live with stuff like that. The sound-quality is excellent, one of the better live-discs I've ever heard. A clean, powerful, high energy mix.

As I mentioned in the beginning, there's also three new songs on this album. The first one is the only song written by members of the group; Robert Lamm and Keith Howland. It's a sweet ballad called "Back To You", with Jason Scheff at the microphone. The only problem is that this is exactly what the radio expects from Chicago. A sweet ballad. Chicago has on numerous occasions said that they want to get away from the ballad trademark, and become the rockband they once were. Not like this, that's for sure. "Back To You" is produced by Bruce Springsteen's keyboard-player Roy Bittan.

The other studio-song is written by none other than Burt Bacharach, "If I Should Ever Lose You". This is also a ballad, BUT one of the better ballads I've heard in a long time. Bill Champlin is singing lead, and his voice sounds smoother than ever. A really great song, with a really great, slick production. Worth mentioning is that Humberto Gatica, who has been working side-by-side with producer David Foster for over twenty years, has mixed all of these three songs. You can really tell the difference.

The last song features ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald on vocals. They do one of McDonald's favourite songs; the classic "Higher and Higher" (Jackie Wilson). Michael McDonald has a great voice, and since he's under the same management as Chicago, they thought that this guest appearance would be a great idea. And indeed it was.

This was a great way to end a rather uninteresting live-cd, which left you with a tons of questions: Where are songs such as "Look Away"? "You're The Inspiration"? "Dialogue"? "Saturday In The Park"? "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is"? "If You Leave Me Now"?

I think I know the answer. We got another volume of Chicago live-material ahead of us. Oh well, I don't mind. Score this one a "B" for the live setting, and an "A" for studio.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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