CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When the concert started, I wondered why this sold-out crowd bought seats. No one sat in them long. The audience for the Earth, Wind and Fire concert at the Clay Center on Thursday night was on their feet as soon as the band took the stage. From hit to hit, the band covered 41 years of songs that Philip Bailey, original band member, described as "not all top ten on the charts, but top ten in our hearts."
Touring with two other original band members, Verdine White on bass and Ralph Johnson on vocals and percussion, the legendary ensemble of nine singers and a wind section featuring sax, trumpet and trombone, owned the stage and the audience. Starting with "Boogie Wonderland" and rolling right into "Sing-a-Song" and "Shining Star", they reminded us of a simpler time, when choreographed moves were simple and performed in unison by every player on stage -- a visual unity that the crowd could follow easily.
Several hits featured Gary Bias on saxophone with long improve solos that were 1970s smooth. Morris O'Connor had an extended guitar solo in "That's the Way of the World." Lead vocalist Philip Bailey demonstrated that he still had range, but saved the money notes until after the baby-making music portion of the concert. For all the youngsters in the audience, the lyrics that cause such events are lines from "Would You Mind" that say "love has found its way to my heart tonight." Insert roaring fireplace here.
Much of the fusion of musical styles that makes their sound unique is percussion-generated. With five drum areas on stage and even the winds adding rhythm shakers and claves at times, the audience has no choice but to tap feet, shake hips, clap and move. And this capacity crowd did tap, shake, clap and move.Earth, Wind and Fire has been described as one of the "most important, innovative, and commercially invincible contemporary Pop/R&B music forces... profoundly influential...musically, socially and spiritually." Its universal message of peace, gratitude and brotherhood is still needed today, probably more than ever.