Deaths of key members don’t seem to derail long-established bands – or should we say "brands."
The Eagles, with Vince Gill sitting in, have booked three concerts since Glenn Frey died last year. The resurrected Grateful Dead tour as Dead and Company with John Mayer. And Queen + Adam Lambert, the latest sub for the late Freddie Mercury, sold out Xcel Energy Center two weeks ago.
Earth, Wind & Fire showed up at the X on Thursday with three 1970s heyday members. Chic, the opening act, was essentially a two-man band in the disco era but only one cofounder survives.
At least, EWF emphasizes the point of original members Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson by setting them off in similarly styled outfits, having them stand together on a runway oftentimes and introducing them as EWF’s elements. But the group also showed several photos and videos saluting its late leader Maurice White, who stopped performing in the mid-‘90s because of Parkinson’s disease and died in February 2016.
By contrast, Chic never really mentioned the late bassist Bernard Edwards, who died in 1996. Their hour-long set should have been billed simply as Nile Rodgers. (After Chic appeared on the ballot for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a record 11 times, bandleader/producer/songwriter Rodgers, 64, was inducted by a Hall of Fame committee – not the full complement of voters -- this year for his “musical excellence.”)
Not only is the guitarist the cofounder of Chic but at least half of the band’s set was devoted to songs Rodgers has written (or co-written) for others, including Diana Ross’ “Inside Out,” Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”
Chic’s performance was entertaining but the seven-piece band and two singers didn’t catch fire often enough. Vocalist Kimberly Davis lit things up on a soulful treatment of “Get Lucky,” and Jerry Barnes’ bouncy bass line propelled Chic’s 1979 classic “Good Times” into a great time, especially when Rodgers grafted on a version of “Rapper’s Delight.”
Chic, who opened for Duran Duran last year in St. Paul, clearly didn’t have the same appeal as Chicago, the Rock Hall of Fame jazz-rock-pop horn band that opened for fellow Rock Hall inductees EWF last year in St. Paul. Chicago and EWF pulled in 14,000 fans and on Thursday, only about 5,000 turned out for an evening of R&B and disco.
Nevertheless, EWF didn’t disappoint. The 12-piece ensemble puts musicianship ahead of showmanship, laying down horn-accented, percussion-driven soul-jazz grooves with different flavors and tempos. The jazzy harmony vocals were special, with what seemed like more high voices than a boy choir.
The voice that mattered most was principal lead singer Bailey’s. At 66, he still has a striking falsetto and the ability to sustain high, true notes, which elicited jaw-dropping reaction during “Reasons” and “Fantasy.”
Ballads like “After the Love Is Gone” had couples slow dancing during the 90-minute performance. But the party tunes, including “September,” “Boogie Wonderland” and “Let’s Groove,” brought all the fans to their feet.
With that kind of vocal and musical prowess and three core members to give it credibility, EWF seems to have the right elements to continue to groove.