BLOG: After 50 years of performing, Chicago’s never sounded better

Chicago performs at Toronto's Budweiser Stage on July 19. Jim Walker

It started during the second song.

He started bobbing his head.

Then, it progressed to fingers snapping, fist pumps and finally, all out singing.

One of the things I enjoy, is to see the reaction of someone who’s never seen Chicago in concert.

Wednesday night, at the Budweiser Stage in Toronto, I invited a friend of mine, Jim, to come to the show with me. Funny, Jim and I have have known each other for 55 years, but he never saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers in concert until last night.

Turns out, he wishes he hadn’t waited so long. Jim kept saying the same thing, over and over again: WOW.

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When it was mentioned during the show, that Chicago was celebrating their 50th consecutive year, he turned to me and said “these days, that’s saying a lot.”

Yup. The music, as always, is what speaks to us.  That, and the incredible group of musicians that took the stage.

This group has never sounded better, and tighter. Want proof?

Exhibit A: The newest addition to the group, bass player and vocalist, Jeff Coffey.

His vocal range during “Questions 67 and 68,” “I’ve Been Searching So Long” and “Alive Again”, among others was bang on.  Toss in the fact that he’s genuinely appreciative of getting the opportunity to play with the band, and you have an absolute gem.

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Speaking of appreciative… Exhibit B.

Drummer Tris Imboden. No one had a bigger smile on the stage than he. His drum solo with percussionist Walfredo Reyes Jr., turned into a duel. Kind of along the lines of “oh yeah, smart guy, beat this.”

Guitarist Keith Howland’s searing solo into “Old Days” was a new twist to the set list.  Close your eyes, and you think you’re listening to the late Terry Kath.

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Keyboard player Lou Pardini, added his incredible vocals to “Make Me Smile.”  Pardini keeps getting better every year.

(Note… if you really want to see how much fun the five musicians mentioned above have, check out #Bus2 on Facebook.  It’s a unique way to interact with fans.)

Woodwind and saxophone player Ray Hermann, and original members, trombonist Jim Pankow, trumpet, flugelhorn and occasional vocalist Lee Loughnane and keyboard player and vocalist Robert Lamm, showed no signs of slowing down.

As Pankow once told me, “we get paid for travelling and all that goes with it.  Playing on stage  is fun.” And, if you ask Jim, so is watching them.

LISTEN: Keith Howland in conversation with Ted Michaels (June 20)

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Sing a mean tune, kid

In a nice touch, Toronto resident Neil Donell was invited on-stage to sing “You’re the Inspiration.” A veteran of more than ten thousand recording sessions, and a vocal range of better than four octaves, his performance earned him a standing ovation.


During “Dialogue,” the video screen behind the band showed photos and videos of some of the events and people that played a part in U.S. history…the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, President Obama.

Skin tight

The temperature was 31 C with a heat index of 36 C. Chicago played their entire, two-hour set in sweltering conditions.  The only change from previous years;  “Free” was not included in their encore, possibly due to time constraints.

As a runner, I dislike the heat.  It affects me.  I can’t fathom putting on a full show.

Set list


Questions 67 & 68

Dialogue (Part I & II)

Alive Again

Wake Up Sunshine

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Call on Me

(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long


If You Leave Me Now

Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon

Make Me Smile

So Much to Say, So Much to Give

Anxiety’s Moment

West Virginia Fantasies

Colour My World

To Be Free

Now More Than Ever

Old Days

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Hard Habit to Break

You’re the Inspiration


I’m a Man

Street Player

Just You ‘n’ Me

Hard to Say I’m Sorry / Get Away

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Saturday in the Park

Feelin’ Stronger Every Day


25 or 6 to 4

Ted Michaels is a newscaster at AM900 CHML in Hamilton.

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