Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire at the Bottle Rock Napa Valley Music Festival earlier this year. (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
A few thoughts on Earth, Wind & Fire’s highly entertaining, remarkably musical and totally terrific show Sunday at the Minnesota State Fair grandstand:
1. EWF remains as exciting now as they were the first time I saw them headline a Twin Cities arena in 1977. The lineup has changed over the years and the production isn’t as spectacular, but the musicianship, energy, choreography and all-around entertainment value are as top-notch as ever. After establishing itself as one of the most versatile R&B bands in the ‘70s and ‘80s, EWF clearly bolsters its standing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame decades later.
2. At 67, original lead singer Philip Bailey still sounds heaven sent. His high notes and falsetto remain quite a feat. Those impossible high, held notes he hit on “Reasons” were stunning. He’s the real deal. No lip-synching for this veteran.
3. At 67, animated bassist Verdine White remains an enduring source of wired energy and unstoppable funk. The third original member, singer/percussionist Ralph Johnson, seems more reserved, even somewhat passive compared to the other two mainstays from this 45-year-old band. But you need three original elements for Earth, Wind & Fire.
4. Two younger singer/percussionists, David Whitworth and Philip Bailey Jr., added energy, pizazz and harmonies. Their flash helps but everyone in the 12-man ensemble dances, save the drummer and keyboard player.
5. The tight, versatile horn section brings the jazziness and the funk. Saxophonist Gary Bias had some outstanding solos, notably on “After the Love Is Gone” and “Reasons” when he and scat-singing Bailey Sr. exchanged passages.
6. The 105-minute performance included a tribute to Aretha Franklin, with an abbreviated version of her “Freeway of Love,” a song well suited to this horn-happy ensemble and an opportunity for a White bass solo while doing a crazed dance.
7. The highlights were many but worth citing are “That’s the Way of the World,” “Fantasy,” “Devotion,” “Reasons” and the closing stretch of “Boogie Wonderland,” “Let’s Groove” and “September” when all 10,169 fans were dancing like the ‘70s never ended.
8. Veteran comic Sinbad opened the evening with more than an hour of observational comedy. Among other things, he picked on bicyclists, scooters and teenagers. At 62, he stood up for baby boomers, pointing out that “we’re not driving slow; we’re waiting for the names of the streets to come into focus.” He’s such a pro that he was able to pick on individual audience members and still make the ad-libbed humor work for all 10,000 concertgoers. He was an outstanding choice to be paired with Earth, Wind & Fire.