Classic Rock Comes To Austin

by Greg Lemen on June 26, 2017 in Entertainment, Music,

Although Chicago and The Doobie Brothers formed nearly a half-century ago, the bands recently pulled in for a pit stop at the Austin360 amphitheater adjacent to the Circuit of The Americas racetrack on Saturday, June 17th keeping their drive alive. These two multi-talented and extra-experienced bands, that have sold more than 140 million records worldwide and combined, played for four hours to an ecstatic set of adoring followers on a sizzling Central Texas summer night. While their lineups have changed greatly over the decades, the popular hits produced over time by both of these hall of fame groups evoke memories of 70s radio play and Dad rock vinyl records, which makes their 2017 thirty-show summer tour a sentimental success.

The Doobie Brothers formed in San Jose, California, in 1969 and eventually became one of the state’s most popular bands. They have had three major iterations defined by lead vocalist Tom Johnston who helped form the band with its rootsy, country-rock and roll sound powered by a fuzzy, dual-guitar lead. At that time they garnered attention from the Hell’s Angels and played many unannounced shows at one of the bikers favorite venues. Johnston left in 1975 and the Michael McDonald era began with soul and jazzy pop vocals reimaging the band’s direction until 1982. Reformed in 1987 as a reunion show for a Vietnam Veterans Aid Foundation concert, the Doobie Brothers, named after a slang term for marijuana, brought Johnston back and are gifting their songs well into the 21st Century.

While Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston are the only two members left from the original lineup, the current group kicked off their long list of memorable 70s tunes with the bongo-driven and keyboard-backed ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ followed by the guitar-riffy ‘Rockin’ Down The Highway’ from their second album, produced in 1972, Toulouse Street. The band covered the Michael McDonald 1976 vocal hit ‘Takin’ It To The Streets’ from the same-titled album without a missing a beat. Skipping back a few years to 1974’s southern anthem ‘Black Water’ that starts with its recognizable jangly intro and folksy vocal duet, they praised the Mississippi moon that is gonna make everything right. And it did that night. No Doobie Brother’s show would be complete without ‘China Grove’ and it’s fiery electric guitar intro, punchy piano with a tip of the hat to the Lone Star State in the lyrics. Finishing the night the band had the crowd howl along to ‘Listen To The Music’ to close out their set and make way for Chicago.

If The Doobie Brothers were a fine wine aging with time, Chicago is the entire winery. Built on a horn section that continues to blast their message across the universe, the band’s expansive lineup of fine musicians over fifty years has produced a discography that seems unending. It is a daunting task to pinpoint the exact album a song was originally recorded on without some time on your hands due to the volume of recordings. But this dynasty of pop hits has blatantly beamed a rhetorical question across the world for years on end now: Does anybody really know what time it is? And the answer, while “Being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock” is “Does anybody really care?”

Chicago formed at DePaul University in 1967 as college kids playing Top 40 hits. Three original members remain: Robert Lamm, on keyboard and vocals, Lee Loughnane, on trumpet and vocals, and James Pankow on trombone. One of the most notable departures highlighted in the group’s personnel changes over the last 5 decades is that of vocalist Peter Cetera in 1985. The voice of many of their famous love ballads, Cetera’s role is not easily replicated, yet the band that keeps driving has become a well-oiled machine that continues to evolve without him. In its continual expansion and growth, the band has amassed 23 gold, 18 platinum, and 8 multi-platinum albums. Noted as one of the hottest singles charting groups in the US during the 1970s, it is still among the Top Ten best-selling American groups of all time.

With their two-set show and 9-member band breaking and reforming into smaller teams with the efficiency and fluidity of a race track crew swapping out tires in seconds flat to keep the car on the road, the band presented different ensembles to treat their fans on this night to high-energy horns, drum solos and acoustic love songs. One of the most poignant ballads played that night, sung along by broken hearts for the last 5 decades, was the dual-acoustic and hand-drummed version of Chicago’s first-ever number one single, ‘If You Leave Me Now.’  Although originally sung by Cetera, the magical feeling of the songwriter’s intent was reproduced without losing any love-lost yearning. And since their history is so incredibly expansive it could circle the nearby F1 course for days on end, a microcosm of the night’s performance is contained within the iconic album titled ‘Chicago IX: Chicago’s Greatest Hits.’ If you’ve seen it, you know it: the band members, dangling from a wayward scaffold, pose as painters and workmen hanging on for the job and the ride of their lives.

From that hits album Chicago played ‘Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,’ a song that seems to celebrate the end of a loving relationship with an agreement to move on with resilience and believe “Love’s not all it’s supposed to be.” On a lighter side, ‘Saturday In The Park’ relaxed the audience with its aggressive piano intro that calls on the horn section to back it up and accent the singer’s view of humanity soaking in the beauty of life while happily at leisure. Rounding out the hits from that same record, Chicago ended the night with their crowd-pleaser that to this day puzzles listeners and begs them to ponder, what the hell does ‘25 or 6 to 4’ mean? The spectators didn’t seem to care, ate up every note and sang along with lead singer Jeff Coffey who hand-signaled the numerals while plucking his bass. Some nations did care, however, and in 1970 Singapore banned the song for it’s alleged, and incorrectly assumed, allusion to drug use. According to the Robert Lamm who wrote the song in 1969, it is merely a reference to trying to write a song in the middle of the night. If anybody really cares what time it is, it is 25 or 26 minutes before 4 AM.