Earth, Wind and Fire – Live in Portland Oregon September 10, 2002

Bringin’ a Big Sound to Town
Earth Wind and Fire
by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

Earth, Wind and Fire blew into town bringing their flashy presentation and big sound with them. The people that filled up the Keller Center in downtown Portland came expecting a show, and EW&F did not disappoint them on this night. In recent years, Philip Bailey has been known to have a little trouble hitting his famed high notes (I witnessed this phenomenon personally last summer). However, Philip was in rare form tonight, ranging from the low sexy ballads to the extremely high wails (think Reasons) and beyond. Bassist Verdine White, another original member of the group, danced and jumped frenetically around the stage throughout the entire show like some hyped-up teenager, jamming on his bass just as he has for the last 30 years… pretty darned good for a guy that’s pushing 52 years old.

The touring band has two drummers, two keyboardists, a three-man horn section, two guitarists, Verdine on bass, two backup singers and two dancers, and of course Philip and Ralph Johnson (the third remaining original member of the group) both singing and playing percussion. In fact, most of the folks did double duty singing and playing, so the net effect was a BIG sound!

The crowd was on it’s feet for the opener and stayed that way through most of the show, sitting down only briefly for some of the ballads and when the lights occasionally went out between songs. After the finale the group came out and did ‘Head to the Sky’ as the encore, not the same without Maurice White, founder of EW&F, but lovely nonetheless. Throughout the show various members of the group were showcased, each playing th their own strength. Percussionist Danny Reyes’ performance was particularly strong all night.

Having seen EW&F put on a less than stellar performance last year, I was afraid that this former supergroup was fading into a parody of itself. Well, they DID do montage of R&B covers, and they DIDN’T do any new material, that’s a fact. But there is a breath of new things in the wind for EW&F, and their performance tonight was energized. The show they set out tonight was far and away better than last year’s, kudos to musical director, keyboardist and vocalist Robert Brookins for keeping the fire burning. This show was on a par with the time I saw them at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago, some 25 years ago. I hope the rumors of a new CD are true, and I hope brother Maurice is a part of it. We’ll keep an ear to the ground and our head to the sky, waiting.