Horn-driven rock and roll in the hands of masters has the power to shake a hockey arena from goal line to goal line.
Pour all that brass over a pile of hits and a great night of music is a sure thing.
Chicago, a band formed on the shores of Lake Michigan in 1967, ran through its amazing collection of solid-gold radio songs in a two-set, two-hour-plus performance for about 3,000 people at Amsoil Arena in Duluth Wednesday night. The 10-piece band, which still features three original members, offered a standard, no-nonsense show focused all on the music.
Led by founding members Robert Lamm on keyboards, and Lee Loughnane and James Pankow anchoring the horn section, the band likely plays the same show in every town, but it doesn't matter. They have the songs.
If you were old enough to drop a needle on vinyl in the 1970s or '80s you know the Chicago setlist. And the songs survive today in football stadiums, high school marching bands and Hollywood film soundtracks of all kinds.
Performing in front of a screen featuring mostly colorful, slightly psychedelic images, the band opened with material giving each member the spotlight. "Questions 67 & 68" and "Call on Me" showcased the Chicago sound right from the start. Big, shiny horn riffs carried the songs like waves rolling off Stoney Point.
Canadian Neil Donell, who joined the band last year, provided skyrocketing vocals to "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long" and made a strong attempt at the oh-so-difficult ballad "If You Leave Me Now," a No. 1 record in 1976.
Donell, a stand-in for original high-note hit singer Peter Cetera who left the band in 1985, might be stiff behind the microphone but he certainly has the vocal chops. His work on "You're My Inspiration" may have topped Cetera's 1984 version and earned a big cheer from the crowd.
While power ballads like 1989's "Look Away" may have earned Chicago huge worldwide record sales, the roaring horn-based rockers earned them the reputation as an American original.
"Alive Again" opened the second set like a downbound ore train rumbling through Proctor. "Old Days" featured guitarist Keith Howland on wah-wah pedal and Lamm mixed his soulful vocal with the great rhythms of "Beginnings."
Of course, it's the horns that make Chicago magic. Loughnane's trumpet could give the Aerial Lift Bridge welcome salute a run for its money. Pankow plays trombone like he's stick-handling a hockey puck: hunched over, moving the instrument back and forth, until he slaps out the big note to top off a solo.
As the show wound down, Donell knocked out a sweet version of "Hard to Say I'm Sorry," which saw the cellphones light up the floor and lower bowl. Then things got fun. Some fans, perhaps reliving their 20s, rushed the stage for "Saturday in the Park" and everyone was on their feet for the classic rocker "Feeling Stronger Every Day."
The big electric guitar riff of "25 or 6 to 4" nearly matched the horn section in sheer power as the band brought the show to a roaring close.
Opener Tim Stop, a Chicago-based singer-songwriter, played a bouncy 30-minute set that featured Michael McDonald-inspired pop songs about fools and heartbreak. Seated at a Nord keyboard, Stop showed off a strong voice, on a solo offering and his four-piece band turned up the rock and roll on the closer "London."
Mark Nicklawske is a Duluth freelance writer who reviews music and theater for the News Tribune.