Backyard, Oct. 20 As longtime musical franchises with only a handful of original members left, Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire joined forces this summer to liberate themselves from the turgid casino circuit. In addition to rejuvenating commercial interest, the tour's Austin whistle-stop demonstrated aesthetic payoffs as well. Far from a standard oldies package, the two bands played both separately and together, freshening up the material and imbuing the three-hour performance with a novel energy neither group could've conjured on its own. Taking the stage as a collective, the mass of musicians started with Chicago's "Beginnings," EWF's "In the Stone," and Chicago's "Dialogue" before feigning a coin flip to decide which group would play first (a real coin flip would've given roadies heart attacks). EWF got the nod and quickly worked the crowd into a funk frenzy with "Boogie Wonderland" and "Getaway." Vocalist Phillip Bailey proved he could still hit jaw-dropping high notes, while bassist Verdine White kept the energy level high with nonstop movement and resplendent fringed pants. The two groups addressed the departed-vocalist issue by trading off. Chicago's Bill Champlin sang lead on "After the Love Has Gone" (which he co-wrote), with Bailey returning the favor on "If You Leave Me Now." Chicago's set didn't have the booty-rockin' energy of EWF's, but their arsenal of hits made up for it. Starting with the entire "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon" suite, Chicago wisely focused on its Seventies output, eschewing the Eighties except for the biggest hits. In addition to obvious inclusions like "Saturday in the Park," Chicago also trotted out lesser-knowns like "Old Days" and "Alive Again." Both groups returned with a medley of EWF's "September" and Chicago's "Free," followed by a horn-and-guitar assault on "25 or 6 to 4." Who says easy listening can't rock?
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