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"Are you Earth, Wind, or Fire?" —Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson), upon first meeting the flamboyantly-dressed disc-jockey Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid) on WKRP in Cincinnati.
There are some classic musical acts that go on way past their prime years and eventually become an embarrassment. Take The Rolling Stones for instance; while Mick Jagger and his boys are one of the greatest rock bands ever, the fact that the band is considering one last tour next year is insane. When The Stones toured in 1989 on the famous Steel Wheels Tour, critics back then dubbed it the "Steel Wheelchairs Tour."
That was almost a quarter-century ago. Yeah.
Anyway, the reason I'm even bringing the subject of past-their-prime musical acts up is because occasionally a band keeps on touring and actually is able to maintain the magic. A perfect example of this was on display Tuesday night at the North Charleston Coliseum, as Earth Wind & Fire tore it up before a full house. I'd had the chance to see EWF at the Dock Street Theatre last year when the local concert club Music with Friends brought them to town. It was a pretty amazing experience to be able to see one of the best R&B acts ever in a venue that only held about 300 people, and the band all but blew the roof off the place. When it was announced that EWF would be coming to town to help the City of North Charleston celebrate its 40th anniversary, I was all about seeing the band again.
Although EWF only currently features three of its original members, Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson, and Verdine White, the band, which has been performing for longer than North Charleston has officially been a city, still sounds spectacular.
The night started with a performance by local rock group The Explorers Club. For the uninitiated, these young guys have a sound that is like a mixture of all the best parts of The Beach Boys, The Mamas and The Papas, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, and the early days of The Rolling Stones. Armed with a brass section and matching flowered shirts, The Explorers Club ran through a set of original music, including "Run Run Run," my personal favorite from the new CD "Grand Hotel." They also busted out a cover of The Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun," which, given my extreme aversion to anything Carpenters related, sounded nice enough. There were a few technical problems during the set, but the guys handled the glitches like pros. Was the band just a bit out of place opening for EWF? Perhaps, but they still sounded great and the crowd seemed to dig them.
When EWF finally hit the stage, the Coliseum audience erupted as the band dug into "Boogie Wonderland." I don't think there was a single butt in any of the coliseum's seats when that song started. Part of the reason that EWF hasn't relegated itself to the stack of classic bands that make a spectacle of themselves when continuing to tour is that the musicians they hire to round out the band are top notch. Bailey's son, Philip Jr., performs with the band, and the horn section is out of this world. Another part of what made Tuesday night's show especially good was the inclusion of the North Charleston Pops Orchestra, which was nestled on a raised platform at the back of the stage. The inclusion of symphonic strings and brass to many of the songs Tuesday night made what was already great music even better. Bailey and Johnson are now both in their 60's, but the voice of each man hasn't seemed to age. Bailey in particular can still hit all of the high notes, and he did just that on songs such as "Sing A Song," "Shining Star," and "Kalimba Story," which began with Bailey playing a kalimba (also called a thumb piano) during the song. Even at 61, Bailey's voice is strong and pure, sounding just like he did when EWF was just starting out in the early '70s.
The band continued to tear through its hits, including "That's the Way of the World," "After the Love," and EWF's classic cover of The Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life." Bassist Verdine White, who is also 60 years old, amazed me by the way he never stopped moving, dancing wildly while laying down his famous bass grooves. The encore included "September," "Let's Groove," and "Mighty Mighty."
I personally hope that I have even half the amount of energy that White does when I reach his age. Watching the band perform, it was readily evident that these musicians truly love what they do. Some bands go through the motions like robots, all the while with one eye on the end of the current tour. That's not EWF. These guys are for real. If you weren't there to help North Chuck celebrate it's birthday, you truly missed out.
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