Earth, Wind & Fire might channel the power of the elements, but nature was not on their side this past Friday at Perfect Vodka Amphitheater for their coheadlining concert with fellow Windy City music legends, Chicago. Despite lightning and a 50-minute power outage, the two bands delivered a high-powered performance full of stunning visuals and musical prowess.
The 20-minute opening set, consisting of all 21 band members, went off without a hitch as they played alternating songs by each group. But just two minutes into Earth, Wind & Fire’s solo set, shortly after 8 p.m., everything went black, and the members looked dumbfounded. After a few minutes of confusion, a voice over the loudspeaker announced that they had Florida Power & Light on the phone trying to solve the problem.
On Twitter, WPTV reported that lightning had struck a power transformer, and this had not only affected the amphitheatere, but all of central Palm Beach County as well. The outlook wasn’t promising. Eventually, though, our patience was rewarded. The stage lights flared back up at about 8:55 p.m. and cheers reverberated throughout the crowd.
The blackout served as tinder to the band's flame; once the stage lights came back up, Earth, Wind & Fire did not mess around. They dove right into “Africano/Power Medley,” their choreographed dance moves complemented by sparkling black-and-red outfits. Verdine White shone, looking like a hippie from outer space, flailing around with his bass guitar and silver bell bottoms. Hit after hit came like a train at full speed: “Boogie Wonderland,” “After the Love is Gone,” their funky 1978 cover of The Beatles’ “Got to Get You into My Life.” If he had been performing inside, Philip Bailey’s mean falsetto during “Reasons” could have broken a thousand windows.
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Out came Chicago after a short intermission, and vocalist and keyboardist Robert Lamm belted the “Introduction” from Chicago Transit Authority, sounding like he did almost 50 years ago. Vocalist and guitarist Jason Scheff could have easily passed for ex-founding member Peter Cetera’s doppelganger, singing along perfectly to "25 or 6 to 4." Percussionist Walfredo Reyes Jr. added some Latin flavor into the songs, and he didn’t hesitate to do an almost four-minute solo with fellow drummer Tris Imboden during “I’m a Man.” The crowd stood up and sang along to “Saturday in the Park” while a montage of people enjoying Central Park flashed on the screen.
Adding to the shining performances were the dazzling graphics displayed behind them. Flowers straight out of 1960s peace rallies, UFOs, and starry night skies flew across the screen in a blaze of bold colors. A shot of the late EWF founder Maurice White walking toward the Egyptian pyramids with an umbrella felt particularly psychedelic.
During the finale, White and Earth, Wind & Fire percussionist Ralph Johnson playfully looked at their nonexistent watches with Lamm as he sang “Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?” Laughing along with the rest of the crowd, it was easy to see how much of a natural chemistry Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago have on stage. Watching members arm-in-arm, dueling saxophones blaring, shredding guitar solos that'd make Eddie Van Halen cry tears of joy, you would never have thought the major power outage earlier had nearly destroyed the entire evening.
Racism, hatred, and fear might still exist on this planet, but there was no trace of that Friday night. Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago’s messages of love and acceptance resonated with the crowd — which begs the question: Can horns really bring people together? The answer: Always.