Live review: Earth, Wind & Fire @ Red Rocks AmphitheatreBy Sam DeLeo | June 8th, 2011 | 1 Comment »
The 9-year-old girl dancing for her grandfather in the row ahead of us at last night’s Earth, Wind & Fire show had memorized many more song lyrics than her grandpa. But then, the Red Rocks show marked the band’s 40th anniversary — that’s a long time to remember lyrics. The edge goes to the 9-year-old.
With a full orchestra of Denver-area musicians backing them, Earth, Wind & Fire delivered what the sold-out crowd had come for — hit after danceable hit. The few exceptions — such as “Evil” from the 1973 album “Head to the Sky,” and “Mighty Mighty” and “Kalimba Story” from 1974’s “Open Our Eyes” — almost sounded as if they were in the set more for the band than the audience. During those years, the group was still searching for the sound that would give them the sing-along appeal the Beatles had mastered the decade before.
“We were basically jazz musicians,” said founder Maurice White on the group’s website, “(playing) soul, funk, gospel, blues, jazz, rock and dance music” in an effort to create pop songs that bridged the gap between black and white America. “I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before.” During “Kalimba Story,” Denver native Phillip Bailey, the band’s lead vocalist with the four-octave range, took on the African thumb piano parts that White used to play. “Give him love,” he said of White, who no longer performs due to a prolonged illness but remains the heart and soul of the band.
From the show-opening disco hit “Boogie Wonderland” to set closer “Let’s Groove,” the band succeeded in keeping the crowd on its feet and dancing, though not without battling the amphitheatre’s uneven sound system for the duration. It doesn’t happen every show, but it’s unfortunate when a venue as renowned as Red Rocks doesn’t deliver the sound quality that helped make it famous. Luckily, it takes a lot more than spotty feedback and mic malfunctions to keep these songs down. “Boogie Wonderland” featured a samba-flavored break with Bailey on congas and fellow original member Ralph Johnson adding vocals and percussion. On “Let’s Groove,” founding member Verdine White (Maurice’s younger brother) laid down the signature bass line that would stick in our heads the rest of the night.
“Sing a Song,” “Shining Star” and “Getaway” came one after the other, the first of them accompanied by a V-shaped choreographed dance with Bailey at the point. It was great to watch, and yet, maybe there are reasons we don’t dance in formation any more. Guitarists Morris O’Connor and Greg Moore traded sizzling blues riffs to provide a mid-set respite from the cavalcade of hits.
Then it was “That’s the Way of the World,” “After the Love is Gone,” “Reasons,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Fantasy,” “September” and the aforementioned “Let’s Groove.” Sure, the trademark horns, Bailey’s inimitable falsetto, Johnson and White’s funked-out rhythm lines — but had they really had that many damn hits?
As is the case with many of these songs, the rhythms and melodies seem to have already been in your head — Earth, Wind & Fire just released them for you. And oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to matter whether that first happened 3 or 33 years ago.
Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and is currently finishing his second novel.
Joshua Elioseff is a Boulder based photographer of everything, a self-professed music junkie and regular contributor to Reverb. Check his photos out on Facebook or his website.