Just a couple of months away from their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the still-vibrant musical group Chicago played at the Cross Insurance Arena on Thursday night. The band is known for being among the first to integrate jazz and funk elements into mainstream rock, and it brought all that and more to a two-and-a-half-hour show that had fans singing along and dancing in the aisles as the evening progressed.

The three hornmen who did so much to give the group its distinctive sound from the start were often front and center as the group spread across the stage. Lee Loughnane (trumpet and flugelhorn), Walter Parazaider (saxes and flutes) and James Pankow (trombone) took many of the songs to a higher level in punchy arrangements that left space for strong individual moments.

On vocals, keyboards and guitar was founding member Robert Lamm who showed he can still get it done on such classics as “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’ and “Beginnings.” He and the others seemed to enjoy the appreciative response of the crowd in the big hall.

Newer material was given its due, with “Now” featuring strong vocal harmonies from Lamm with Jason Scheff, Keith Howland and Lou Pardini. Scheff took the lead vocals while also playing bass on “Hard Habit To Break” as well as on several of the sumptuous ballads in the band’s broad repertoire. His efforts on “Saturday in the Park” and “If You Leave Me Now” were highlights in a show full of tunes that have formed an enduring part of the popular music soundtrack of the last 50 years.

Drummer Tris Imboden and percussionist Walfredo Reyes Jr. cut loose in the middle of the Spencer Davis Group classic “I’m a Man” for some back and forth that simmered a bit before coming to a full boil. Both also were at the center of “Mongonucleosis,” a Latin rhythm-based steamer that got the whole group into a groove.

Howland got a chance to demonstrate rock guitar heroics on “I’ve Been Searchin’ So Long” and Pardini revealed keyboard sensitivity on “Look Away.” “Just You ‘n’ Me” included a soulful soprano sax solo from Parazaider, while “Free” offered all the players a chance to go for some jazzy improvisation.

At times full of hypnotic patterns and other times showing nostalgic images related to the songs, the light show on screen behind the band added to a concert experience that was driven foremost by a great deal of onstage energy.

A dynamic finish included “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” and the rousing “25 Or 6 To 4,” spirited songs from a powerful Hall of Fame band.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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