Earth, Wind & Fire are one of the longest running and most successful groups in R&B history, and their performance last Friday, September 13th, at the Hollywood Bowl showed that their musical powers remain elemental. Now in their fiftieth year, the band delivered two sets full of hits with the added power of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins. Bassist and charter member Verdine White moved the crowd all night, especially on irresistible dance numbers like “Boogie Wonderland” and “Shining Star,” while vocalist/percussionists Ralph Johnson and Philip Bailey demonstrated their still prodigious vocal ranges; Bailey’s falsetto on “After the Love Has Gone” and “That’s the Way of the World” was remarkable, as was his melodic playing of the title instrument in “Kalimba Story.”
On the surface, a rhythm and blues group and a classical orchestra may seem like opposing sorts of bands. But Earth, Wind & Fire have always combined complex melodies and harmonies with their at times insistent rhythms. Just as Funkadelic proved a funk band could play rock, Wilkins showed that a symphony Orchestra can swing and even groove. He knew when to lay out and where his ensemble could add musical color, and the players kept pace all night with no matter how fast the beats got. The force of the orchestra was never more apparent than during a rousing version of “Fantasy” towards the end of the second set.
The evening reached its peak when the group went into “September.” The song by itself was enough to get the crowd up on its feet and singing along, but the pyrotechnic display from atop the bandshell helped bring the energy to another level. Earth, Wind & Fire and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra gave us a quite a September night to remember.
The summer is almost gone, and so is the LA Philharmonic’s season at the Hollywood Bowl. While there are a number of interesting leased events going on well into fall, there are only three chances left to bring your own wine and picnic to the bowl: this Saturday at 6 pm for the traditional Sound of Music Sing-A-Long, the intriguing Black Movie Soundtrack concert that closes out this year’s Jazz Series at 8 pm on September 25th and KCRW’s sponsored show with blues shredder Gary Clark, Jr. on Sunday, September 29th at 7 pm. Details are at the Hollywood Bowl’s website.