LIVE: Chicago / Brian Wilson @ SPAC, 07/17/2022

Chicago gave a perfectly poised professional performance at SPAC Sunday night. I don’t mean to damn them with faint praise. The current 10-piece lineup of this veteran band really is a tight unit. Celebrating their 55th year of existence, it’s also extraordinary that 3 of the founding members are still present – Robert Lamm – keys, vocals, Lee Loughnane – trumpet, vocals, and James Pankow – trombone. They are ably supported by Ray Herman – sax, flute, Neil Donell – vocals (handling the high tenor stuff that Peter Cetera originally sang), Ramon Yslas – percussion, Tony Obrohta – guitar, Loren Gold – keys, vocals, Eric Baines – bass, and Walfredo Reyes – drums. All of the musicians also chip in with backing vocals to great effect, despite a rather muddy sound mix.

Photo by Dakota Gilbert

The last time I saw the band was at this same venue in 2018 when they played their second album (a double, released in 1970) in its entirety. I was delighted that they kept the multi-movement suite “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” in the set tonight. The sidelong piece pretty much sums up Chicago’s ethos and versatility – from the feel-good melodic pop of “Make me smile” and “Colour My World,” to the labyrinthine almost Zappa-like instrumental gymnastics of “West Virginia Fantasies.” And all driven by that unique three-horn frontline. Loughnane, Pankow and Herman goof around throughout, throwing shapes, pointing fingers, fist bumping and Dad dancing. It’s all good, their enthusiasm and love for the music are evident and contagious.

Photo by Dakota Gilbert

One word of warning. Chicago does have a propensity for the cheesy power ballad. Quality cheese to be sure, more camembert than Velveeta, but cheese nonetheless, and they showcased maybe a few too many of them. Add the new song “If This is Goodbye” to this melodramatic list. But that’s a minor gripe. Their stomping cover of the Spencer Davis oldie “I’m a Man” features a jaw-dropping drum and percussion solo from Reyes and Yslas in which they traded positions from drum stool to percussion rig and back again while still playing!

The night ended with the driving “25 or 6 to 4”, their traditional closer, and the crowd emptied out happily into the dark.

Photo by Dakota Gilbert

Opening act Brian Wilson was a sad affair. Although the crowd enjoyed the bucolic and buoyant songs of The Beach Boys, songs imprinted into the consciousness as the very definition of “Summer”, Wilson’s onstage appearance was worrying. Shepherded to his piano by 2 assistants with a walker, he sat immobile and expressionless throughout the set. As the band played the hits with a workmanlike zeal, really a tribute band by any other name, he barely participated, only attempting a few vocal lines on “God Only Knows” and “Be My Baby” before trailing off into silence. Clearly, the man is in no fit state to be performing, and God only knows why he is being put through this ordeal. Painful to watch.

Photo by Dakota Gilbert


Brian Wilson:

  • California Girls
  • Do It Again
  • I Get Around
  • Little Deuce Coupe
  • Surfer Girl
  • Don’t Worry baby
  • Wild Honey
  • Long Promised Road
  • Sail On Sailor
  • Wouldn’t It Be Nice
  • Sloop John B
  • God Only Knows
  • Darlin’
  • Be My Baby
  • I Can Hear Music
  • Heroes And Villains
  • Good Vibrations
  • Help Me Rhonda
  • Surfin’ USA
  • Fun Fun Fun 


  • Intro
  • Dialogue parts 1 & 2
  • Old Days
  • Call on Me
  • Searchin’ So Long
  • Mongonucleosis
  • If This Is Goodbye
  • 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
  • Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?
  • Hard Habit to Break/Getaway
  • You’re the Inspiration
  • Hard to Say I’m Sorry
  • Beginnings
  • I’m a Man including percussion solo
  • Just You n’ Me
  • Saturday in the Park
  • Feelin’ Stronger Everyday
  • Encores:
  • Free
  • 25 or 6 to 4
1 Comment
  1. Mike says

    Brian Wilson must make this his farewell tour, for everybody’s sake. Chicago’s sound mix didn’t sound muddy to me at all toward the back of the lawn, but the sound quality varies so much depending where you are @ SPAC, for sure. As a drummer, I second the ‘jaw-dropping’ description of the two man solo. Their new song didn’t make me want to check out the rest of the new release, that’s for sure! The most annoying part of this concert was the break between bands. There’s no excuse for a nearly 50 minute gap, unless Brian and his band called it quits early, and Chicago’s contract stipulated a 9:00 start time, regardless of when the opening act finished.

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