Only three members from the early ’70s are in the touring edition of Earth, Wind & Fire — bassist Verdine White, vocalist and percussionist Philip Bailey and vocalist and percussionist Ralph Johnson. But stamp the band’s soul-funk legacy preserved. And how.
Last Sunday the group sold out the Hard Rock Live at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. After opening a 90-plus minute show with “Boogie Wonderland,” the group dished up an unrelenting feast of instantly recognizable hits like “Getaway,” “Serpentine Fire” and “Sing a Song.” “Shining Star” and “That’s the Way of the World” followed those. The way this band and its joyful audience crowd moved may have knocked the venue off its axis.
Their nine-piece band shines with vocal and percussion standouts David Whitworth and Philip Bailey Jr. and a three-piece horn section that sounds double its size. The elder Bailey, with his signature falsetto, was sounding focused and looking slim. While their recordings generally do his vocal gift justice, you must hear and feel it in person to truly savor the height and strength of his voice.
“This is the baby-makin’ set,” Bailey announced midway through the show. “If you’re too young to remember these, maybe you were conceived to them.” Love ballads “Would You Mind” and “Can’t Hide Love” were followed by two songs for the true-blue fans, 1974’s “Devotion” and 1973’s “Keep Your Head to the Sky.”
“After the Love Has Gone” and “Reasons” were flawless grooves. Bailey then broke into an a cappella version of the Stylistics hit “Betcha by Golly, Wow.” He had the crowd softly singing along with him. While typical concert sing-alongs are a harsh mix of singing and outright yelling, this was a smooth ride. He finished with an operatic falsetto spectacle that brought everyone to their feet and left them all a little breathless.
After “Got to Get You Into My Life,” the band reached out to the crowd with handshakes and knuckle-bumps. Bailey even leaned down to plant a kiss on a fan’s cheek.
But it wasn’t over. “Fantasy” was hovering.
During “September” and “Let’s Groove,” White was bouncing, kicking and smiling his way around the stage as energetically as when the show opened, if not more. Towards the end of the finale “Mighty Mighty,” an all-out jam, the “big three” bowed to the crowd and joined for a center stage hug. They walked off as the band put an exclamation point on the show.
The group’s ambitious and timeless take on soul and funk etched their place in musical history. Just as every PC comes with Windows operating software, all MP3 devices should come with “The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Volume 1.” The world might be a better place.
Chris Bradshaw is a Bonita Springs-based concert photographer who loves to shoot the show. He’s covered local bands in tiny smoke-filled bars, U2 in a sold out stadium and everything in between.