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Trying to remember

May 1, 2008
By RICK CHATENEVER, Maui Scene Editor
Keyboardist Robert Lamm, one of the founding members of supergroup Chicago, told the packed concert crowd at the MACC Friday night that many of the greatest hits in the group’s four-decade career were from … the …’70s!

Lamm didn’t actually remember the ’70s, he confided to the happy concertgoers in the balmy night air — but he has heard from others that he had a really great time back then.

It was a variation on the joke about the ’60s that says anyone who can remember those days wasn’t really there. In fact, a lot of what passes for the ’60s actually took place in the ’70s. There are little corners of Paia and isolated ravines in Haiku and Huelo where the ’60s are still happening as we speak. Apart from that, the ’70s really were pretty forgettable.

The ’70s were like pleasant anesthesia after all the revolution and renaissance hubbub of the ’60s — sort of a soothing haze with a good dance beat.

That’s what the Chicago concert was like, too.

One thing I do remember from the days when Chicago’s recordings were still on vinyl and had the words “Transit Authority” instead of a string of Roman numerals on the album cover, was the way the light changed during outdoor concerts. It would segue, from a bright, sunny afternoon into the “magic hour” of pastel twilight and finally into the darkness of night, when the electricity took over.

For some reason, the passage of time, whether day into night, or four decades of making music together, came to mind as I joined the happy throngs heading for the MACC gates. There’s always that wave of expectation carrying the crowd like surfers on its crest, the buzzing buildup before the music even begins.

On Friday it began with Taimane, a 17-year-old ukulele virtuoso who had been discovered and mentored by Don Ho.

Making use of the large stage area, she bounded back on forth, mixing classical technique with disarming, youthful joy and a cute smile. She calls it “playing with aloha.”

Chicago’s version of aloha is more urban and jazzy, buoyed by the trademark horn section.

Quick now, how many other groups can you name where a guy playing a trombone (James Pankow) takes center stage?

Especially those of us in the audience who don’t exactly think of ourselves as Chicago fans were reminded of just how familiar — and infectious — so much of their music is.

Which still doesn’t make their lyrics meaningful. It kind of goes with the territory when the best you can do is “I’m a man, yes I am,” or “Baby, please don’t go … woo… woo.”

It’s the moods that linger. With that wall-of- sound brass section, Chicago preserves another musical thread of those times — the ability of the tunes to paint pictures. For all the urban cityscapes, the blues and car-horn blasts in the musical textures, there’s also an almost classical undercurrent, as though the musicians are weaving a tapestry.

It feels breezy, free and easy, why, almost like Saturday in the park. (I think it was the Fourth of July … people dancing … people laughing … a man selling ice cream … Can you dig it? Yes, I can.)

Unlike the Rolling Stones, whose ages can be calculated by counting the number of wrinkles in their faces), time seems to have been softer on the guys of Chicago. They look like rockers en route to the golf course. Their hair looks untouched from the ’70s, like it might be the very same hairs.

OK, so the sleeveless wardrobes might have been good for a chuckle or two, but just as always, the group’s slick musical intricacies and pulsing rhythms provided a much needed escape from worries. Like the grounding of Aloha Airlines and ATA in recent weeks. Or the price of gas. Or the price of food. Or the price of concert tickets.

Maybe the reason I can’t remember Chicago lyrics is because I didn’t understand what they meant … then, or now. Maybe they don’t mean anything at all, or maybe, like a friend suggested, they mean anything you want them to.

But, as I realized two days later, unable to chase the music out of my mind as I practiced a form of moving meditation known as mowing the lawn, it has passed the test. It’s still here, happy as ever.

And those lyrics might actually have meaning far deeper than any of us realized.

Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody even care?

• Contact Rick Chatenever at


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