After Terry Kath’s death in January 1978, Chicago had a bit of trouble finding themselves. While the 1978 tour with former Steve Stills side-man, Donnie “Hot Licks” Dacus on guitar and vocals was full of the fire and energy of a band embarking on a new beginning with a new producer and guitarist. The 1979 disco follow-up XIII saw a significant drop in sales and the departure of Dacus.
After departing longtime label, Columbia Records. Chicago found resurgence with their new guitarist, Chris Pinnick, keyboardist/vocalist Bill Champlin, and svengali producer David Foster.
This bootleg captures the energy of that new beginning. For the first time since Terry’s death, the band had someone to cover Terry’s soulful vocals on songs like Make Me Smile in Bill Champlin.
While this soundboard recording is exceptional, the performances seem to be sped up, as if the band had gotten caught in the cocaine infused blur of the late seventies and early eighties. Kicking it up from 33 to 45 RPMs—even their prom-fodder; If You Leave Me Now and Hard to Say I’m Sorry sounded a bit more frenetic than on their studio releases.
There are some interesting flourishes like the organ intro replacing the normally instantly recognizable piano intro to Saturday In the Park and Chris Pinnick’s hard driving guitar solo on Follow Me—one of Chicago’s most underrated songs. The drum solo which in recent years has been performed by Tris Imboden on the tail end of Beginnings is found instead being performed by original drummer, Danny Seraphine, at the end of the Spencer Davis Group classic I’m a Man. Another interesting addition to the set is Spencer Davis Group’s Gimme Some Lovin’. While I’ve always enjoyed the song, it doesn’t quite sound right with Peter Cetera’s tenor vocals. Bill Champlin’s more soulful baritone would have done much more justice to this classic.
One of my disappointments of this set is the lack of vocal interplay between Peter Cetera and Bill Champlin. Part of what made Chicago 16 and later Chicago 17 so appealing was the combination of Champlin’s soulful baritone and Cetera’s soaring tenor. Their vocal styles complimented each other in a way Chicago had not experienced before and has not really experienced since. It’s to Chicago’s detriment that they did not take advantage of the vocal chemistry the two vocalists shared.
Despite the shortcomings this is an excellent set from an all-too-brief period in this band's long history.