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Can't Get It 

   Outta My Head


                 A Baby Boomer


                           Muses on The Music

Earth, Wind and Fire Lionel?

A few years ago, I blogged about my favorite live concerts. What I experienced two months ago won’t make the Top Ten — probably not the Top 20, if I was going to go that far down — but it was nevertheless interesting.

Headlining the show was soul/pop crooner Lionel Richie, with Earth Wind and Fire the opening act — the concert was subtitled “Sing a Song All Night Long,” conflating the titles of two of the bigger hits from both acts’ oeuvres. I know, that doesn’t sound like something in my wheelhouse, but it was a gift to my wife, who did really enjoy it

What happened before the live music started could’ve soured me on the whole enterprise. I paid $20 for A (1) BEER: a dollar an ounce for a 16-oz. craft IPA, plus tax, plus the minimal tip that the payment system would allow. Sheesh …

At that rate, I wasn’t going to be buzzed before concert time. So I couldn’t blame what I thought was EW&F’s muddy sound mix on the alcohol. Although the acoustics at the venue, St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center — one of those multi-purposes arenas that probably doesn’t serve any particular purpose all that well — may have been a factor.

But the energy level of EW&F mostly overshadowed those factors. Although the group I think stuck mostly to their hits and better-known numbers, it occurred to me that I knew less of their music than I thought I did. But the drive, power and funk of the ensemble playing was irresistible.

At one point mid-set, between songs, one of the two older performers — I assumed them to be original or early members —talked about just that. He said the current group included three originals. I thought that Philip Bailey had passed away, so I couldn’t figure out who would be left.

Turns out it was Bailey himself that was doing the talking, and it was co-founder Maurice White who had left the planet (during The Year the Music died, 2016, when we also lost David Bowie, Glenn Frey and a bunch of others). The other musician highlighted looked too young to be an original member, unless he was playing back then as a child. However, Verdine White, Maurice’s brother, hadn’t let his hair go and stay gray, like Bailey and Ralph Johnson had.

That said, the energy of EW&F in concert these days mostly comes from the younger, non-original members. Bailey still carried a lot of the vocal burden — and he did seriously crank it up for one number later in their set — and White tried to boogie like it was 1979, but Johnson often seemed be going through the motions, and on a different song.

As noted previously, the band played a lot of songs I didn’t know. But they did get around to my favorite EW&F song, “That’s the Way of the World,” and followed that with “After the Love Is Gone”; the next to last cut was “September,” which many who are not EW&F fans will remember. But they followed that up with “In the Stone” … help me out here, but was that some sort of milestone in their careers?

Richie got off on the wrong foot with me, by saying something about it being karaoke night. I’m thinking, “I paid how much for these tickets, and I’m going to get amateurs singing?” Like many acts, he did invite the audience to sing a few times, but he didn’t abuse it.

What he did do was play a LOT of songs by the Commodores, the band with which he broke through, back in the 1970s — it seemed like more than from his solo career. Granted, Richie, as one of the principal songwriters for the group, penned many of those songs. (And also wrote for other artists, including Kenny Rogers and Diana Ross.) Many of the songs I associate with him are Commodores’ numbers, but Richie has sold more than a 100 million records worldwide; his former band, “only” 70 million.

A big chunk of his set list was ballads and slower-paced stuff. But the bass guitar was cranked up to 11, and kind of overwhelming — you could feel it in your gut — and the accompanying light show was often distracting. Also, as Jeanne noted, when closeups of Richie’s face were put up on the Jumbotron, there was some sort of effect hiding or filtering it — which was weird, considering that he had made a comment early in the concert about how old he thought he looked.

The end of Richie’s set was kind of lame. He followed up a sermonette consisting of bumper-sticker platitudes with “We Are the World,” the cloying anthem he co-wrote with Michael Jackson for the 1985 African famine-relief benefit album of the same name.

I guess Richie has sold more records than EW&F, which has chalked up 90 million-plus in sales worldwide, and thus is the bigger name, and more deserving of top billing. But Jeanne and I agreed that we’d rather see EW&F than Lionel.


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