Earth, Wind & Fire
June 18, 2016
Review and photos by Seth Rogovoy
(LENOX, Mass., June 18, 2016) – Earth, Wind & Fire displayed why they are one of the most beloved and enduring pop-R&B bands in the world at Tanglewood on Saturday night, with its contagious rhythmic pulse, hook-laden melodies, horn-fueled, jazzy arrangements, and synchronized dance moves performed by a band of a dozen or so musicians.
The concert was the soundtrack to a nonstop dance party at Tanglewood, a nostalgia trip for many fans back to the group’s heyday when, in the second half of the 1970s, Earth, Wind & Fire dominated the pop charts with its crossover R&B music that included elements of funk, disco, jazz, Latin, soul and African music, all of which were on display and in virtuosic form in the group’s concert.
The concert featured a nonstop backdrop of video projections, mostly fed from a live feed of what was happening onstage, but also with archival footage of the band interspersed throughout. It was a poignant touch, as it included the band’s founder and reigning visionary, Maurice White, who died earlier this year at age 74. While remaining the band’s leader until recently, White stopped touring with the band in the mid-1990s due to illness.
But longtime co-vocalists Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson, as well as some younger vocalists and musicians, hit all the familiar notes. Bailey, who still boasts a huge four-octave range plus a falsetto, brought out his kalimba, an African thumb piano, which the band introduced into pop music before such things became de rigueur, and featured it in a long solo, which he followed up with a conga solo, as if illustrating the musical journey from Africa to the Caribbean, with Johnson then completing the trip with rock-fueled percussion on bongos and other hand drums.
The group was a constant blur of songs and motion, with musicians and singers trading leads, dance moves, and sharing the spotlight on numbers including “Shining Star,” “That’s the Way of the World,” “Sing a Song,” “Devotion,” “After the Love Has Gone,” and perhaps their best known song, “September.”
It’s no wonder that upon moving into the White House, President Barack Obama chose Earth, Wind & Fire as the first musical group to provide entertainment at a social occasion during his presidency. The group captures so much of the American experience in music, channeling so many influences, and incorporating the history of black music and dance music up through the disco, pre-hip-hop era.