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12 Sep 2018

Poems for the People: Chicago Returns to Fantasy Springs to Celebrate the Band's Legendary Second Album

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When the band Chicago released its second album, commonly referred to as II, in 1970, it pushed the group’s blend of rock, jazz and classical into even greater territory.

Chicago is currently touring behind a remastered release of II, and at some stops is playing the album in its entirety. The group will perform at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino on Saturday, Oct. 6.

The first album, Chicago Transit Authority, released the year before, challenged radio formats with songs longer than the typical-for-singles three minutes. “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” clocks in at 4 1/2 minutes, while “Questions 67 and 68” goes beyond 5—yet they became hit singles. This continued with II; “25 or 6 to 4” is almost 5 minutes long.

Chicago not only survived the death of guitarist Terry Kath in 1978 and the departure of singer, songwriter and bassist Peter Cetera in 1985; the band kept on going, earning induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. After the recent departure of another founding member, Walter Parazaider, due to a heart condition, three founding members remain. One of them, trumpet-player Lee Loughnane, said during a recent phone interview he’s unsure whether the band will perform II in its entirety at the Fantasy Springs, although it’s been a lot of fun to do.

“We often talked about doing it, but this is the first time we actually decided to go ahead and do it,” Loughnane said. “The reason is because (in 2016), Rhino Records hired a guy from England named Steven Wilson to remix it. That started spurring interest in the second album, and we were nominated for the Grammy Hall of Fame, and we wanted to continue that resurgence and play it in its entirety on the road. We’ve been doing that all year, and it’s been a lot of fun. When we started doing it, we wondered how people that young could come up with that intricate musical style. I don’t hear any songs like that anywhere else, and it’s unique to us. It’s been a lot of fun to re-create them.”

Loughnane said he and the other original band members had already played most of II at single shows before.

“We’ve played every song except for ‘Memories of Love’ live, because at that point, we only had two albums, and it was all we knew. We played everything that we knew at the time,” he said. “Until we got enough hits and people would say, ‘Well, how come you’re doing that and not the hits?’—that’s when we stopped doing what people always called ‘album cuts.’”

In 2016, a documentary on Chicago was released titled Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago. It was an honest look into the band’s high times (no pun intended … mostly) and low times. The members discuss the period when they worked with producer David Foster, who made Cetera the face of the band and reduced the amount of horns in the music.

“He was hired to put us back on the map. … He took the reins, and that’s what he came up with: He used less horns,” Loughnane said. “He did make sure some horn parts got into the songs, but he didn’t concentrate too much on them. That got me playing different instruments, and I played bass sometimes when we’d play those songs live. He got us to do different things with our talents, and in retrospect, many of those songs still work for us every night. He did admit in the documentary that maybe he overproduced and maybe changed our style to a drastic point where it was a departure from what we did before. But when you look at it now, it’s almost as if we’ve had two different careers, and they’ve worked. We’re combining them when we play live every night.”

Chicago has released a string of live recordings from recent shows.

“It’s sort of a document of what we’re doing at the time. Unfortunately, the band has changed so many times in the past couple of years,” he said. “Now, it’s to the point where it’d be nice to have a studio album of the current band, because it’s so much fun to play together. But we’ll see what happens. It’s harder and harder to come up with albums that will be played for enough people to hear them to where it’ll make sense for us.”

Chicago’s live shows are definitely a spectacle; you can feel how difficult many of the songs are and how many different times the key changes. Loughnane laughed when I brought this up.

“Our songs are interesting. They are difficult to play, and you have to keep your chops together to pull it off. ‘Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon’ is probably the most intricate song that we do, as well as ‘Introduction.’ There are so many styles in each of those songs—different tempo changes, different keys and a lot of different factors. They never get any easier, and it’s always fun to play them.”

The members of Chicago understand that music has changed—and that what they do is not seen much anymore. But Loughnane said he doesn’t fear the future.

“Unless they listen to oldies radio where you’d hear us more often, it’s hard to hear music that incorporates brass and strings, as well as other instruments. Now it’s all vocals and drum machines,” he said. “I’m not afraid that it’s going to completely go away, because music is going to survive, and the writers will figure out a way to bring back other instruments into the fold.”

Chicago will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio. Tickets are $59 to $99. For tickets or more information, call 760-342-5000, or visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

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