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Review: Earth, Wind and Fire shines in Dallas

Posted 11:31am on Wednesday, Mar. 07, 2012

At first, the thought of watching Earth, Wind & Fire – the quintessential ’70s funk outfit – on stage with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra seemed almost perverse.

Would there be guys in satin jumpsuits and bootylicious dancing girls grooving with the first bassonist and piccolo player? I wasn’t sure what to expect.

But the more I thought back to the band’s most indelible hits such as Shining Star, That’s the Way of the World, Let’s Groove and September, the memories of outlandish outfits and pyrotechnic stage shows gave way to the band’s signature sounds: elastic guitar riffs, shimmering sax and trumpet lines, a pounding percussive beat and bouncy bass runs. Not to mention Philip Bailey’s gravity-defying falsetto.

And then it made perfect sense. Earth, Wind & Fire was, and has always been, a superfly symphony unto itself.

So the 2012 version of the band slipped seamlessly onto the stage of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas on Tuesday night, where they performed the first of two sold-out concerts with the DSO.

Led by three of the original band members – Bailey, Ralph Johnson and Verdine White -- EW&F’s 11-piece ensemble (which included Bailey's son, Philip Jr.) and the DSO took a mostly middle-aged crowd on a joyous journey back in time.

We began in Boogie Wonderland, with a disco beat that conjured memories of bellbottoms, platform shoes and high-school dances. A few fans down front jumped to their feet, but the Meyerson’s pristine surroundings made more than a few of us feel self-conscious about cutting loose.

Thankfully, the fellas were just warming up. Bathed in purple and gold light, Bailey, clad all in black, implored the faithful to Sing a Song. And we did. Loudly. I'm quite certain the lady next to me never wants to hear my voice again.

But the elements of Earth, Wind & Fire were taking hold.

And when the effervescent bassist Verdine White, dressed in yellow satin and fringed chaps, tore into the classic bass line of Shining Star, followed by that initial horn blast, it was like a shockwave of paddles to the heart. Every butt in the house bounced out its seat and began shakin’ like it was 1975.

Of course, throughout the 80-minute show there were reminders we weren’t in 1975 any more. Maurice White, the founding member and soul of the band, no longer performs. Extended guitar and sax solos early on seemed like a chance for the 60something original members to catch their breath. And when Bailey cut short Reasons, the ballad chocked full of stratospherically high notes, it was a bit of a cheat. And a wake-up call.

Oh, right, we are all getting older.

And yet, Bailey’s fabulous falsetto still threatened to blow a hole through the Meyerson roof on hits like That’s the Way of the World and After the Love is Gone. And his stints on the conga drums and kalimba showed him to be more than just a pretty voice.

White bounced around like a shaman on September, and, really, the whole night. We should all line up behind him for a drink from his fountain of youth.

And as the DSO gracefully played the band into a beautiful rendition of Fantasy, you couldn’t help but feel grateful for what might be a final chance to see this band live on stage.

If Earth, Wind & Fire, version 2012, never fully reached funk liftoff, well, that’s just fine with me. Their show was still a wonder-filled blast from our past.

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