In their fourth decade of making music that unifies music-loving Americans of all races, creeds and colors; and people the world over, Earth Wind and Fire remains one of the tightest, funkiest, most rhythmic bands to grace a stage. People from 11 to 70 were dancing at their seats, in the aisles and at the back of the theater.
Starting with “Boogie Wonder-land,’’ Philip Bailey commanded the audience to “stand on your feet!” We obeyed him, shooting straight up and standing during most of this exhilarating retro 70s concert Friday, April 18 at the new Fillmore at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach.
Fans sang along on the next hit, “Sing a Song,’’ easily demonstrating our knowledge of the lyrics to every tune the “elements of man” brought to our lives.
From “Shining Star’’ to “Reasons,’’ concert goers were en-grossed in the music that had us jumping in the ‘70s and, now, has teenagers thrilling to its groove.
Three young girls, Lou (11), Lena (12) and Ilidja (13) are proof that great music stands the test of time. They left the Fillmore smiling, intrigued by the music their mothers shared with them that evening. Light was in the eyes of attendees who poured out of the theater – satiated by EWF’s excellent musicianship.
The band has three original members – Verdine White on bass, former drummer turned vocalist Ralph Johnson and lead vocalist Philip Bailey, also on percussion. The group’s creator, Maurice White, who is Verdine’s brother, was absent from the tour due to a health condition. White’s other brother, Fred White, played drums from 1974 to 1983. To date, Verdine remains the only brother on tour.
The members are phenomenal musicians, each bringing a crucial part to the whole. But it’s the songs that are golden, even platinum, and we recognized every one.
Verdine lay flat on his back as he plucked his bass to tumultuous applause on “Serpentine Fire.’’ Then, with his trademark high energy, threw kisses to the packed house before skipping stage right like a 20-year-old rocker.
Guitarist Morris O’Connor set off the blues during “Deliver the Message,’’ a song that assured us that what we considered EWF’s purpose 40 years ago is the same today – keep our heads to the sky!
On timbales, Ralph Johnson echoed the congas of Phil Bailey, while Reggie Young gave an incredible trombone solo. The message was delivered!
Reggie Young on trombone, Bobby Burns on trumpets and Gary Bias on tenor sax form the horn section, “rivaled only by the James Brown Band,” according to Juanita Hernandez, a concert attendee. This 12-piece musical caravan features Myron McKinley on keyboards and young drummer John Paris, born one year before EWF was formulated.
Famous for his falsetto, Bailey sang lead on “Devotion,’’ “Head to the Sky,’’ “Reasons’’ and “Fantasy.’’ Rounding out the group are Bailey’s sister-in-law, vocalist Kimberly Johnson, and percussionist and vocalist B. David Whitworth, who joined the group in 1996 (making him the group’s forth front man.)
Ambassadors of peace and unity, the group’s goal was to “bring theater to Rock & Roll,” said Bailey. His assertion that “when it’s right, it’s real” sums up the value of the music spun by EWF. The group’s seventh album, That's the Way of the World, was the most successful release in the band's history, reaching #1 on Billboard 200 and Billboard Top 100 R&B charts.
At last week’s concert, we recognized the ability of EWF to cross not only generations, but cultures too. The music’s Latin flavor electrified the Hispanic patrons enthralled with the band. The joint was swaying with Afro-Cuban beats, not surprising to EWF’s multi-ethnic fans.
Folks 60 and 70 were rocking back and forth. A man sat while his wife danced. Then, on a reprise of “Boogie Wonderland,’’ he jumped up and stayed on his feet until the encore.
The band bid us goodbye and left the stage, but we weren’t having it!
They came back with more of the happy music we can never forget, “Fantasy,’’ then segued into “Hearts of Fire’’ and we were done, through, satisfied. They could go.
Verdine, however, was jumping up and down on the stage, and Phil said, “come on, jump, ya’ll,” until we joined in, feeling young again, like back in the ‘70s!