Review+Photos by Ken McCain
May 15, 2018 | San Jose, CA – The legendary group Earth, Wind & Fire made a stop on their latest tour and played the San Jose City National Civic. After a month of touring, last March ended with the group on a month-long break to chill and rest up for their latest jaunt across America. They arrived in San Jose, Ca just after their week stay at the Venetian Las Vegas. They brought plenty of chops, buses and gear to outfit their West Coast leg. We caught them looking and sounding as sharp as ever, now in their 49th year since Maurice White and Verdine White originally formed the group. Maurice, the patriarch of the band passed away in February of 2016, after battling Parkinson’s Disease. Since his departure from touring with the band in 1994, the band continued playing with vocal duties falling to the remaining members, many right onto Philip Bailey’s plate. Which he does with remarkably still to this day.
Everyone loves Earth Wind & Fire, and much of that may stem from their philosophy that their music (as in life) have positive energy. Creating uplifting music was always the objective. From the dimming of the lights at the start to the final waves goodbye they accomplished nothing but positive energy. The setlist they bring to any show chronicles so many songs, besides their numerous hits, they have a catalog of 21 studio albums alone to choose from! As Bailey talked to the audience, he explained that only “True Fans” would love some of the other songs they’d play that night. The true fans, which had to be 99.999% of everyone in the arena including some of the Civic’s staff, all cheered back with their approval.
Picking favorites is a hard thing to do when an iconic group has such a wealth of music to share. Performance alone can sometimes sway you to one song or another, so based on their live show on this night, I’d put my vote in for the last five songs. As the night got underway they came out and got everyone dancing in the upper and floor seating from the get-go. Their infectious beats of fused jazz, latin, African, and funky rhythms blend so well, and are so ingrained in us it’s hard not to let yourself go. Who can’t groove to “Jupiter” or “Serpentine Fire”? I dare you to try the next time it’s on.
Musicianship is never lacking on their stage. They have always had a large ensemble at no less than 12 members. Counting the percussion sets was enlightening to me. I’ve usually associated them as a band with a large horn section. However, with five drum setups and only three horns, it seems that the rhythm section is a bigger part of their show than ever. After a huge start to the show, and a killer bass solo by Verdine White, Bailey slowed it down a few notches. As the band started a beautiful version of “Kalimba Story” , Bailey played the Kalimba. The Kalimba is new to me, but after researching the African musical instrument a little, I’ve come to realize that we’ve all been listening to it throughout their albums. He is a true master of the instrument, often called a thumb piano, even wowing many who have seen it played.
The middle section of the show was filled with slower songs which gave many of the fans to take a break from dancing (me included). The view also improved to the silent approval of many behind the taller concert-goers. Songs like “Can’t Hide Love”, “That’s the Way of the World”, and “After the Love Has Gone” had everyone still grooving and singing along. One thing about Earth, Wind & Fire is that their fans (people everywhere), know the words and sing loudly filling in for the missing backup singers. With the last third of the show they began with the high-reaching “Reasons”, which Baily nailed as well as someone 30 years his junior. That gave way to four of their hottest songs of their night turning the floor of the Civic into Studio 54. Even those in the upper seats were getting down to the grooves of “Fantasy”, “Boogie Wonderland”, “Let’s Groove”, and “September”. A super end to a show filled with such classic music.
Earth, Wind & Fire continue their way along their West Coast dates for the next week, then take off for select dates along East Coast. After a break they will spend a month touring in the UK and throughout Europe. US dates are planned to follow. Catch them when they come to a venue near you! Just make sure to bring your Boogie Shoes when you do 🙂
Sing a Song
Bass solo (Verdine White)
Kalimba Story / Sing a Message to You (Philip Bailey on Kalimba.)
Sun Goddess (Ramsey Lewis cover)
Keep Your Head to the Sky
Can’t Hide Love
That’s the Way of the World
Brazilian Rhyme (Beijo)
After the Love Has Gone
In the Stone
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