Dan MacIntosh Review: Chicago Plays Its Brassy Hits to a New Generation at OC Fair


COSTA MESA, CA – When Chicago first started making music, back in the late 1960s, it was cool to have horn players in a rock band. With its trumpet, trombone and saxophone players, this band comes off a little like a blast from the past these days.  Retro or not, though, the group brought its unusual configuration to the OC Fair, and put on one solid show.

The band Chicago was described at its outset as a “jazz-influenced” rock act. However, hearing many of the group’s early recordings played live, much of this music sounds a lot like progressive rock. In fact, in a few places, the music even came off like pre-math rock. With its unusual chords and time signatures, it’s easy to see why diehard musicians appreciate what they do.

As often happens when bands have lasted as long as Chicago has, there are multiple stylistic phases to the group’s career. Songs like “Make Me Smile,” with its shapeshifting instrumental intro, bears absolutely no resemblance to “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration,” a couple of the band’s ’80s adult contemporary hits. 

chicago 1970 – courtesy getty images

The concert ended with “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” one of Chicago’s rocking-ist hits. The band then came back for one encore, a song that can probably also be referred to as ‘The Riff,’ which is the fantastically guitar-y “25 or 6 to 4.” This performance was extra special because original member Jimmy Pankow was able to bring his sons Carter and Jon, to play along with the band. 

With its 10 players on stage, Chicago was able to successfully replicate the sounds of its early hits, such as the jazzy “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and the breezy “Beginnings.” The show also featured a drum solo, though, which is a retro element that should stay in the past. 

Bands that have been at it as long as Chicago, can sometimes become complacent or even bored with their hits. Such was not the case this night, however, as these musicians enthusiastically played songs from every era of Chicago’s career. People keep coming back to Chicago shows because of the act’s strong musicianship. The songs may be oldies now, but because they were created with solid musicianship, they were also built to last.