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John Lamb, Published April 23 2013

Chicago still touring – and getting along – 45 years in

FARGO - For 45 years, record labels, DJs, music critics and music store owners have struggled to define the group Chicago.

Instead of jamming the horn-based band into pre-defined genres like jazz fusion, rock, funk, soul, pop and even experimental, founding trumpet player Lee Loughnane says you just need to listen.

“Once you see us live, all of those questions get answered,” he says when asked how he describes their sound. “Pigeonholing still happens, but you’ll see when we play in Fargo we cover all spectrums, we can handle it and hold our own.”

Indeed, when Chicago plays the Fargodome on Friday night, Loughnane says fans will hear tunes from their 1969 debut up to the most recent music, some of which the group will start releasing through its website, www.chicagotheband.com.

And it’s a wide range of music. While the group topped the charts most often with their radio-ready pop ballads in the 1980s (“Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “Look Away”), their early works were more progressive, both musically and socially.

Through different styles, what’s remained intact is the group’s core, the horn section of Loughnane, saxophonist Walter Parazaider, trombonist James Pankow and keyboardist Robert Lamm.

“Things could be much worse,” Loughnane says, referring to how well the core four get along. “I know of other groups and bands when the only time they see each other is when they’re on stage.”

Their ability to get along after 45 years on the road is a result of them all loving the music they make together.

“To be able to do it this much later, and to do what we love, playing for people, that’s what has kept us going,” Loughnane says. “We love playing live for people.”

With more than 30 albums there’s a lot to choose from, which has prompted the band to break up the concert (there’s no opener) into two sets.

“People want to hear what made us famous, and we were fortunate enough to have so many songs that helped us in that regard. It’s tough to play stuff that was more on the fringe,” he says.

Still, the group is able to work in some lesser known material. At a show earlier this month they dusted off their first single, 1969’s “Questions 67 & 68,” or “Wake up Sunshine,” from the group’s 1970 album.

“It’s the music that really sustains us,” Loughnane says. “The emotions that come out of the music for some reason have generated feelings with many different generations, and there’s no way we could’ve guessed that when the songs were written.”

Members may have not been able to predict how the impact they’d make, but fans knew the band was something special.

“I was a fan almost from the beginning,” says Tom Strait, trumpet player with the Fargo rock and soul band, Post Traumatic Funk Syndrome. “They were very influential on me.”

The Minnesota State University Moorhead music professor first saw the group in 1982, but was a fan ever since he started taking trumpet seriously as his instrument. He recalls buying sheet music for the group’s songs or trying to learn by ear from the time he was in eighth grade.

“I started playing along in my bedroom with all of their music,” Strait recalls.

Strait has seen the group a handful of times but doesn’t have tickets for Friday’s show yet because he’s busy with school work.

Strait’s PTFS band mate, saxophonist Russell Peterson, has a concert at Concordia College where he teaches until 8 p.m., when Chicago starts. But that didn’t stop him from buying tickets.

“If you’re a horn player and you want to play in a rock band, this is the first thing you consider doing,” Peterson says.

As a child of the ’80s, he got into the band’s pop numbers first.

“Then I went and checked out their earlier stuff and liked it a lot more,” he says.

Post Traumatic Funk Syndrome works about eight Chicago songs into their set, the predictably highlight being the hard charging, “25 or 6 to 4.”

“Everybody loves that stuff,” Peterson says. “That’s our encore. When we start that tune, the place goes ballistic.”

Of course, that’s not a reaction unique to PTFS fans. The song has been covered by seemingly every marching band in the country, hard rock singer Vince Neil and “American Idol” singers Lee DeWyze and Constantine Maroulis.

“We play that song every night and it works every night. It never fails,” Loughnane says.

Hearing different people play the song, including those that may have not been born when the song was released in 1970, puts a little pressure on the trumpeter.

“It makes me know I need to work harder. Because I have to live up to what they think I am,” he says.

He recalls meeting young session musicians who tell him how influential he’s been, all while knowing they are better players than he is.

“There’s always improvement that can take place the longer you work at it,” he says.

If you go

What: Chicago

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Fargodome, 1800 N. University Drive

Info: Tickets are $35, $49.50 and $74.50; fees may apply. Tickets available at JadePresents.com, the Fargodome box office, at www.inforumtix.com, or charge by phone at (855) 694-6367.

Win front-row tickets to see Chicago at the Fargodome.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533