To those of us who loved the pop music of The Velvet Underground and The Beatles, the underground rock/pop of Lou Reed and the mainstream pop of John, Paul, George & Ringo, the music of the group Chicago was truly anathema when it first touched our collective ears.
Four decades or more later one can appreciate the majesty of songs like “If You Leave Me Now”, “Hard Habit to Break” and the endless stream of other adult contemporary confections that Peter Cetera has collected during and after his stint in Chicago.
With a solid band of musicians behind him P.C. strangely put together an extremely pedestrian presentation. It was actually quite shocking that the performance concentrated so heavily on the sounds of the eighties when there was much potential for a dynamic roller coaster ride through his career.
Interviewing Syb Hashian of Ernie & The Automatics (and the group Boston, of course), Cetera stopped by and said hello to Sybby…a professional and very nice gentleman, I was hoping he would go out there and out Chicago his former band Chicago!
Alas, the audience was hoping for the same thing too and didn’t get it. Rather than open up with the song co-written by legendary Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller and Traffic’s Steve Winwood, “I’m A Man”, a huge hit in Boston for Chicago as the flip side of “Questions 67 and 68” as well as a Top 10 hit for Spencer Davis Group in 1967 – produced by former Bostonian-for-a-time, the late Jimmy Miller, the set featured laid-back ballads punctuated by a quasi-reggae tune (??), a cover of “Lady Madonna” (??????). A pleasant surprise early in the set was the accompaniment by a young lady who performed duets on Peter’s hits with Cher and Amy Grant.
When they went into the Top 10 1989 smash “After All”, the young lady (we’ll track her name down) sounded so much like Cher the audience resounded with total enthusiasm. The audience also responded when the star asked them to pull out cameras and sway with one of the super power ballads, possibly “Hard Habit To Break” (wasn’t that from the interesting movie “Summer Lovers” back in the day?….no, no, no …it was probably “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”)…anyway, lots of Cetera vocals/songs have spilled over into the film world…good for him – glad he has something to fall back on because the free concert audience was clearly getting tired waiting for the break of day, waiting on “Make Me Smile” or “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is”, songs that he avoided. Perhaps because Robert Lamm or Terry Kath were the voices on those old hits (it seems that Lamm did take the lead on “Does Anybody Really Know…”, proud to say I’m not an expert on the music of Chicago…far from it!)…still, the audience wanted some punch and the Chicago hits would have brought them to life.
The rendition of “If You Leave Me Now” was more Dan Fogelberg than Chicago, the strings definitely needed to bring this one home, and the acoustic encore of “25 or 6 to 4” was truly foreplay without the kiss – don’t even think about the sex. When the riff that’s as classic as “Sunshine Of Your Love” (I’m not comparing the value of the songs, just that both songs contain two of the most historic opening riffs in rock) came in for verse two the audience finally almost got what they came for. But unlike Eric Burdon’s mesmerizing “Sky Pilot” or Three Dog Night’s terrific “Celebrate” or Peter Noone’s exquisite “There’s A Kind of Hush”, all performed on the Esplanade in years past and all delivering pandemonium, the truncated rendition of the most necessary song of the night (though not Cetera’s biggest) was a let down. As was the concert.
Look, I was not a Peter Cetera fan to begin with, but I do appreciate his contributions and was rooting for him. When someone is giving an artist more than a benefit of the doubt and that artists takes his hits and puts together a show with the worst pacing this writer’s witnessed in a decade, well, it is clear he’s having fun and if you can enjoy it with him, all the better.
It was a nice summer night with pleasant music on the Esplanade with a major name who could have walked off the stage owning this town. Instead, he delivered predictable songs with a bit of a dated feel to them. A pity…the song construction and his marvelous voice could have made for a dynamite conclusion to this year’s summer concert series from 103.3 FM. Cetera showed up sober and was professional throughout, but he could have won some converts over and it seems like he just didn’t care to. Still, a pleasant night with a classic voice and some great moments that did get to punch themselves through.