Monday, 18 January 2021

Still Earth, Still Wind, Still Fire

 

I'm a little tired of the phrase “Back In the day.” However, for purposes of retrospective clarity, I'm going to use it one mo' gin.


Back in the day, at the height of their glory, when their stage productions cost somewhere near a million bucks, even the way Earth, Wind & Fire was introduced to the adoring throngs, was hugely melodramatic and mellifluous at the same time. (Yes, that sentence was rather long George, but I'm making a point here):


The stage is almost black. Suddenly, three crescendoing Eastern, metaphysical gongs in succession. Then, an invisible voice, shouting at the top of his lung capacity, "PRESENTING, EARTH, (dramatic pause) WIND AND (decrescendo as voice escapes the mic range) FIRrrie ... "


I was a witness to it at the Oakland Coliseum in the mid-70s. You can still hear it for yourself on the Earth, Wind & Fire, Gratitude album.


We didn't get the levitating introduction from Konocti MC Terry Montgomery, but things did go up from there at EWF's Friday July 6, 2007 set at Konocti Harbor Spa and resort.


The players took their places. The familiar, founding members, Verdine White on bass, Ralph Johnson, percussion & vocals and the "new" master conductor of the EWF auditory experience, Phillip Bailey on lead vocals, percussion and inherited kalimba (African thumb piano) mantle from co-founding leader, Maurice White, who records with the group, but doesn't tour anymore.


The new members are Bobby Burns on trumpet; Larry McKinley, piano; Reggie Young, trombone; Russian born Bobby Z, guitar; Greg Moore, guitar; John Perris, guitar; Gary Byas, sax; Kim Johnson, vocals; David Watworth, vocals and percussion; and Myron Kimble, keyboards and Music Director.


The band's set list was 17 songs:


  1. Boogie Wonderland

  2. Sing A Song

  3. Sun Goddess

  4. Serpentine Fire

  5. Kalimba Story

  6. Evil

  7. You Can't Hide Love

  8. Look Into My Eyes

  9. After The Love Is Gone

  10. Reasons

  11. Love's Holiday

  12. Got To Get You Into My Life

  13. September

  14. Groove Tonight

  15. Get Away

  16. That's The Way Of The World

  17. Devotion

 

Seventeen songs! Nonstop. No intermission. Phillip Bailey did at one point say, "Welcome to the second half of the show,” without missing a beat.


On his signature tune, Reasons, Bailey's soaring falsetto effortlessly segued into an ad lib scat, reminiscent of Judy Garland's Over The Rainbow. A seamless moment.


I marveled at how the band's tech/road crew seemed to get things done with choreographed precision. When a roadie handed Phillip a second bottle of juice, the hand off was done while Phillip played timbales with one hand.


Did I mention vocalist Kim Johnson? She sang like an angel and looked good doing it.


Trumpeter Bobby Burns smoked through a mean solo on Evil. Likewise saxophonist Gary Byas on Sun Goddess. Vocalist/percussionist David Watworth gave his timbales kit a rigorous martial arts workout with spinning kicks on the cymbals and other licks way to difficult for description. Always on time!


Did I mention Russian bred guitarist Bobby Z? Must be seen to be believed. From Russia with funk!


The set ran about two hours. The near-capacity crowd was on its feet throughout. EWF closed appropriately with their hit Devotion.


Two little tykes came out for the finale. I suspect they were Phillip Bailey's grandchildren. One of them held a play guitar which he wielded expertly as the band hit that last finale note. Then the children were picked up by Mr. Bailey and they waved to the crowd as they exited. As the chorus reads in Devotion:

Blessed are the children.

 

 

Thurman Watts writes about music for Lake County News.


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