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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Chicago: Chicago IV - At Carnegie Hall


1) In The Country; 2) Fancy Colours; 3) Free Form Intro; 4) Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?; 5) South California Purples; 6) Questions 67 And 68; 7) Sing A Mean Tune Kid; 8) Beginnings; 9) It Better End Soon; 10) Introduction; 11) Mother; 12) Lowdown; 13) Flight 602; 14) Motorboat To Mars; 15) Free; 16) Where Do We Go From Here; 17) I Don't Want Your Money; 18) Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home; 19) Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon; 20) A Song For Richard And His Friends; 21) 25 Or 6 To 4; 22) I'm A Man.

«How do you get to Carnegie Hall?» «Fairly easy, if you're from Chicago». Okay, that wasn't very good, but you are not expected to retain a particularly sharp sense of humor, having just sat through 2 hours and 48 minutes of live performances from a band that used to specialize in double LPs. I mean, for some reason, whenever anybody mentions «Seventies' excess», the usual stuff that crops up in satirical discussions are triple live LPs by Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but how about this: a quadruple live album, originally released in a boxset so large, you had to commission a van to drive it home? Definitely not for workless teenagers, this band.

Come to think of it, it does make sense that three double studio LPs in a row could only be fol­lowed by a mammoth of a live performance — not only does this package include every single moment of the show, tune-ups and lengthy applause periods and all relevant banter comprised, but it is hardly coincidental that the recordings were taken from Chicago's Carnegie Hall gig: no Fillmore West or Fillmore East for these guys, they had to make a point by playing America's single most celebrated musical venue, even if, as they eventually found, it was not very well suited for amplified electric performances in the first place. Also, the uniformity is somewhat of a setup, since the tracks were really chosen from a week-long series of gigs at the same place; the 2005 Rhino CD release respects that explicitly, with an extra disc of bonus tracks, some of them overlapping with the original selections (another ʽSouth California Purplesʼ, for instance).

Of course, six LP's worth of material cannot be crammed into the space of eight sides (not to mention that some of the original tracks are predictably stretched out into jam mode), so Chicago IV omits some of the material — the classical-influenced suites, for instance, for which they'd need additional budget for an orchestra, or some of their least accessible avantgarde pieces like ʽFree Form Guitarʼ (although there is some free form guitar gratuitously added by Terry in some spots). But pretty much everything that mattered on their first three albums is all here, and now you have a chance to witness whether that big, flashy, vivacious Chicago sound could be repro­duced on stage without losing any of its edges or colors.

It can, of course, be safely predicted that it could; and since Chicago was very much a pop group at heart, it could also be safely predicted that the music would not be gaining any extra or alter­nate edges or colors. True enough, some of the songs are stretched out so that we could see the great Chicago shake the world down with their improvisational talent — ʽSouth California Purplesʼ, for instance, once its main heavy-strolling body is exhausted, becomes a lengthy funky / bluesy jam with Kath at his best. But overall, if there is a single reason to prefer the guitar-heavy tracks on this live album to their studio originals, it should probably be uncovered in the area of guitar tone rather than guitar notes: without the studio processings, Kath's sound, embellished only by the use of an occasional wah-wah pedal, is rawer and snappier, appealing to the rocker side of the average Chicago fan — that is, provided the average Chicago fan does actually have a rocker side, and gravitates towards ʽ25 Or 6 To 4ʼ rather than ʽColour My Worldʼ.

Perhaps subsequent listens might uncover subtle additional nuances, but good luck sitting through a quadruple live Chicago album once, let alone twice or more, and I am certainly not going to spend three more hours of my time painfully thinking of what to say. All I can offer now is The Layman Opinion — it sounds good, none of the songs are butchered, the brass section, guitars, and keyboards mesh and mix as good as in any qualified prog band's performance, and, oh yes, there is exactly one song here that you will not find anywhere else, and it is interesting: ʽA Song For Richard And His Friendsʼ is more than just an anti-Nixon political satire, it is a rather crazy mix of jazz, blues, vaudeville, and avantgarde that Frank Zappa himself might have approved. Most likely, it never appeared on any of their studio albums due to political censorship issues, but it is also far more musically daring than anything on Chicago III — I particularly like the syn­thesis of Kath's ʽfree-form guitarʼ, Hendrix-style, with Zappa-like carnivalesque jazz elements. Not that President Nixon would have been in any way endangered by this artistic statement, but at least its musical challenge ensures that it might still sound exciting to your ears when nobody remembers anything about Nixon any more.

Other than that, what else is there to say? Oh yes, there have been frequent complaints about the poor sound quality of the original tapes — but I am listening to the original CD release (not even the Rhino remasters from 2005) and do not see any particularly dreadful problems: instrument separation is good, so that, for instance, I can easily concentrate on either Kath's finger-flashing guitar «noodling», Cetera's free-flowing bass, Lamm's quiet keyboards, or Seraphine's maniacal drumming during the jam section of ʽSing A Mean Tune Kidʼ without any problems (by the way, this is one instrumental section that has been almost completely redone compared to the studio version — made much more jazzy rather than bluesy). Pankow, allegedly, hated the brass sound, saying that the horns ended up sounding like kazoos, but if what he means is a tiny smudgeon of distortion, I couldn't even say that it detracts from the performance; maybe, on the contrary, it gives things a sharper edge?.. ah, whatever. Audiophiles will, no doubt, prefer the later Live In Japan — an album that, disgracefully, even lacks its own number in the Chicago catalog! — but the setlist on that one is shorter and weaker. At the very least, the plus side of this eight-sided monster is that you can always make your own playlist. Want a kick-ass Chicago? Throw out the wussy suites. Want a pop-style Chicago? Discard the long guitar-based jams. Want to focus on the odd aspects of Chicago? Umm... play ʽA Song For Richardʼ on repeat for 2 hours and 48 minutes. Or edit out everything except the stage banter. It's your choice — you are the people, and Chicago have always been a people's band, for better or for worse.


  1. I always liked the version of Travel Suite on this one, Bobby gives a nice little bit of explanation ("Life on the road with no lady...that's a drag"), they cut out the dead weight and Walt plays a show-stopping solo on Free. Otherwise, 75% of the first three records are included, so as you said, this is a good summary of Chicago 1969-71.

  2. Do I notice an oblique Sparks reference at the beginning of this review? I, too, have only heard this from start to finish one time thus far (and various excerpts subsequently). Regardless, this live set is a fine representation of early Chicago. The horns did not sound that bad on my version of this album. I like your description of Lamm's ʽA Song For Richard And His Friendsʼ. It seems that the bands tried to record this for their fifth album, but ultimately shelved it. The live versions of this song sound better than the recorded outtake.