Earth, Wind and Fire/Chicago: Different Bands, Different Sounds, Same Audience?


In 2004, funk band Earth, Wind, and Fire and rock band Chicago joined one another on a joint tour. Their performance at the Greek theatre was recorded and released in 2005, going double platinum in just a few months after its release. What would possess two bands from two different genres, that appeal to two different audiences to go on our together; I am not entirely sure. But for anyone that likes both bands, this performance provides the best of both worlds.

The concert opened with a set comprised of songs from both music groups, however Chicago’s song “Beginnings” was the first song to be performed. In the recorded concert, the song contained brass instruments, saxophone, mild bass, acoustic guitar, and various rhythms coming from different drums. This is very different from the original version of the song where it is just Chicago performing. In their original performance (below), there was electric guitar, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, piano, and a drum set (not nearly as elaborate as the collaboration with Earth Wind and Fire). The original performance also had a slower tempo than the performance with Earth Wind and Fire. Even with the differences, the song is still recognizable. I believe that Chicago had to increase the number of instruments and tempo for the song in order to accommodate the next song, an Earth Wind and Fire song that was fast and contained all those instruments even in the original recording.


The next song in the combined set was “In the Stone” by Earth Wind and Fire. The element that really distinguishes that song from the previous one is that it begins with the brass and wind instruments playing more complex rhythms (rather than the long tones played in “Beginnings”). Earth Wind and Fire and Chicago’s concert performance of “In the Stone” sounded very similar to the original Earth Wind and Fire recording (below), which is a contrast to the original and concert performances of “Beginnings”. To me, many of the Chicago songs that were performed in the joint set (at the beginning and end of the concert) had very noticeable differences from their original recordings. Meanwhile, the Earth Wind and Fire songs performed in the joint set had very few differences from their original recordings.


Chicago did, however, get the opportunity to play their songs as they were originally recorded during their individual set which happened in the later half of the concert. Some of their songs did have the signature rock sound that is marked by electric guitar while other songs sounded more mellow like rock ballads. The songs that they performed were primarily about love, while Earth Wind and Fire sang a variety of songs with topics ranging from love and relationships to having a fun time. Earth Wind and Fire also performed a few more songs that had faster tempos while Chicago primarily performed ballads.

When you consider the individual sounds of each band there are some very stark differences but when the bands performed together on each other’s songs, the differences were not as noticable. However, what I find most interesting about this performance was not the difference in sounds but the audience and how they behaved throughout the concert. Everytime the camera panned to the audience you only got a glimpse of the first couple rows of the section closest to the stage. While this image may not give a holistic indication as to what kind of people were at the concert, it does do a good job of showing that Whites enjoyed both white and african american music. This is nothing new as the same thing happened in the 20s when whites began dancing to swing jazz. I was, however, under the impression that they wouldn’t understand funk or where it comes from enough to enjoy it. Clearly I was wrong because the same way they reacted and sang along to Chicago is the same way they sang along to Earth Wind and Fire. Does their like of funk music speak to a genuine change in music taste? It would be difficult to determine the answer to such a layered question so for now we will have to be content with them liking something that we, as African-Americans, thought was strictly for us.

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