I’ll admit, I’ve been a Chicago stalker since 1993. Ok, maybe stalker is a little harsh. Follower? Fan? By no means a groupie. I have never been backstage, although I would have given my left arm to ogle Bill Champlin in the flesh and get a pic with him.
Something about those horn-blaring, keyboard-playing, sexy older dudes rocking classic tunes just made my heart pump and pulse quicken. Now, 22 years later, I still get a rush when I watch them on stage.
Have I gone mad? my mother used to ask me, when I was a kid of 16. As a hazel-eyed, precocious, dreamer of a girl who spent her Sunday nights glued to the radio for Casey Kasem’s Countdown of the Top 20 Hits in the land, I was a certified odd duck. While other girls were out cruising in cars in boys, going to raves or bush parties, and lighting blunts, I was in my room like the perfect little Bible thumping, goody two-shoes, penning her romance novels, aka Danielle Steel style and shrieking when Cetera came on the radio with a ’70s or ’80s classic like Old Days or You’re The Inspiration.
No, Mommie Dearest, I did not lose my marbles. I simply found a band that spiked my heart rate better than any Stones or washed up rock band could do. All the other girls worshiped Kurt Cobain or Brad Pitt, but I had the image of Peter Cetera plastered all over the walls of my tiny room. She panicked, thinking I was going to run off to Idaho and find him.
When I discovered Cetera had left in 1985, I was bummed out, to say the least. But then, in June 1993, I decided to take a shot at seeing the boys in concert at a tiny pavilion called the Ontario Place Forum in Toronto. I spent six weeks cutting grass on the one acre spread at home, and my dad paid me a meager $15 a week. It was the Chicago concert, though, come hell or high water!!
There is a point to this rambling. And I will get to it. The band’s review is here, beneath the plethora of gushing. I promise.
From that pleasant first night of summer, June 21, 1993, I was hooked on Jason and the boys. That was when Mister Scheff wore those black sleeveless shirts, flaunting his huge biceps and adorable mop top of curls. Bill had that sexy growl, black leather vest and long silver hair in a poni-tail. Robert wore black spandex pants and a big purple shirt, hair in a blunt cut just grazing the shoulder.
Over the years, the guys from the Windy City have never let me down. Each show, mainly in the Toronto area, was fantastic. Back in the ’90s, they played Kingswood Music Theatre at Canada’s Wonderland or Casina Rama. Each time, my mother groaned, fussed, argued, and tried to come against my passion for “those old men again. When are you gonna grow out of this phase and give it up?” All the while, her condescending words fell on deaf ears. My sister and I got on that GO bus and headed for the show. I’m a stubborn Taurus, so I usually get my way. Miss a once-a-year show to see my boys? I’d rather die.
Fast forward to 2015. Now, with a new vocalist and keyboard player replacing Champlin, I wasn’t keen on hearing him sing. After all, I’d been spoiled by Jason and Bill singing “Hard Habit To Break” with that perfect blend of harmonies. The smokey, blues tone of Bill and the Cetera-esque vocals of Jason. How could a fill-in possibly emulate that?
Soon enough, I would find out I was wrong. I needed to give the “new guy” a chance. Who was I to judge this Lou Pardini character, anyways? I hadn’t heard a single note he ever sung. Come off it, girl. Just swallow your pride.
Earth, Wind and Fire were on double-billing with the boys. This was going to be a big deal!! Earlier in the week, I was stoked to be caller #7 on the local radio station CKDO when Chris Coppin answered the phone and asked: “CKDO…who is this?” I remember jumping up and down, shrieking, because for the life of me, I’d never won tickets to see my favorite band. For years, I’d spent piles of money on the tickets, never having the thrill of winning them for free. Here now was the moment, and I couldn’t be happier.
My sister and I arrived at the gig early.
The lineup was huge. No one was let through the main gates til 6:40 p.m., and when finally, we all started milling through, I could feel my anxiety rising. Dammit, get me to the Keg pavilion pronto! You see, just that afternoon at 2:00 p.m., I was stoked to hear from The Keg restaurant on twitter.
They’d seen my Chicago-tagged tweet from the night before, stating how excited I was to see Jason and the boys. The Keg sent me a private message: “We’ll be there, too, Rochelle. Tell us the number of people in your group, and we’ll have complimentary drinks and food for everyone on the house.”
All I remember was running out of the house with fire in my heels and amped to the max to get to that concert. Free tickets to my favorite band AND free drinks and food? The gods must be smiling on me!!What the hell was happening with my karma lately?It seemed to be on steroids.
Finally, arriving at the venue, having some drinks and SUPERB appetizers, we all mingled with a small crowd. We were given laminated passes to wear around our necks. Sauntering around with food in one hand and a drink in the other, I was right in my glory.
Chicago came onto the stage around 7:45 p.m. The crowd went wild. They started the show with “Beginnings,” their classic hit from the early part of their career. Robert sounded smooth as ever. I watched him on the jumbo screen and turned to my sister. “Does that man never age? Look at that full head of hair. He’s 70 but looks 55.”
All the guys dress so well. Stylish jeans and a dark blazer, mostly. All sexy, all perfect eye candy for the ladies in the crowd. Something happens to a Chicago fan when we witness the guys come to the stage. There’s a collective moment of awe, then the cheering erupts. The chill through the body. The heart rate elevated. Our mood spikes, we become one with each other, all 16,000 of us.
This concert rocked my socks. Every song was pure magic, people grooving, dancing, laughing. Happy faces flooded the crowd and the joy that spread through that place was phenomenal.
The show ran about 3 hours and was well worth every penny. No bad review here. What else can I say? The weather was perfect, 18c/64f, not a cloud in site. The Full Moon shone in a cloudless sky, and the boats dotted the harbour over pristine Lake Ontario.
Jason and the guys covered all their big hits like “Make Me Smile” and “25 or 6 to 4,” and sang their hearts out. When Mr. Scheff belted out the classic “Street Player,” I shrieked with delight. It’s thrilling to hear the band revisit some old hits that were not previously covered in the set. I’ve heard over the years that they really love their fans. There’s no such thing as a bad Chicago performance, and I’ll vouch for that.
So when the new guy on keyboards came out and rocked the keys with his blond-streaked hair, black vest, white shirt and black pants, I was a believer. Gone was Champlin and his signature growl, but in his place was a soulful crooner named Lou Pardini.
At the risk of sounding weird, I’ll confess I have a thing for Mr. Lou. Besides, what’s not to love? Slick vocals, killer style and sex appeal that makes any hot-blooded woman from age 35-55 swoon with lust. Okay, okay. I’m being a little extra, but you get the picture.
Moral of the story, my boys did the show justice. They gave us a stellar performance, and made us proud of their 48 years of fantastic music. We came, we saw, we drank, we ate, we swooned. The band conquered.
By the end of the night, this tired little Chicago fan crawled into bed exhausted, yet fulfilled. Happy and sated, because my head was ringing with Robert crooning the words to Dialogue Part 1 & 2.
The last thing I remember was putting a clip of Lou on my smartphone, belting out “Call On Me” from the Montreal concert in 2012. Then I fell into a deep, satisfying slumber, with visions of hot older guys dancing in my head.
Rochelle Renee: BIO
Born in a small town in Southern Ontario, Rochelle was writing by the age of 7. Her love of short stories graduated to novels at age 14. First, young adult equestrian stories, and later, adult romance. Her biggest writing influences are Lucy Maud Montgomery, Nora Roberts, and Danielle Steel. She is passionate about music and slates the band Chicago as her all time favorite. With five novels under her belt, Rochelle can be found burning the candle at both ends well into the night. She shares her century home with a teenage daughter, guinea pig and loveable Schnoodle named Shiloh. Rochelle writes about the healing power of love and hasn’t given up hope that her prince is out there waiting. She is a journalism graduate and holds a history/sociology degree.