Earth Wind and Fire

An Earth Wind and Fire love-in took place Tuesday night at the Sony Centre as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. From the opening notes of ‘Sing a Song’, the audience was on its feet. All, from those re-living their tweens and twenties when the band came up in the 1970s, to those brought along by their parents, knew the words to the chorus.

We eventually sat down later during a less familiar song and then rose again for the next major hit. And so the evening went, the audience roaring enthusiastically to its feet to dance and sing and then sitting (it might as well have been kneeling) for ballads like ‘After the Love is Gone’.

Surrounded by an eight piece band, the three original members of Earth, Wind and Fire – Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and Philip Bailey – led a two-hour gospel, R&B, funk, rock, disco, jazz influenced cornucopia of sound.

The ageless White on bass, danced the stage for most of set. The energetic Johnson, paced between percussion and vocals. Philip Bailey, ‘The Voice’, was the undisputed star of the show. His voice soared ethereal, Milton-esque, for a few bars from ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ and then belted in falsetto for the rest of the song.

There was a brief homage to founder, Maurice White (Verdine’s brother who no longer performs due to Parkinson’s), as they sang along with video footage of him. The kalimba (African thumb piano), played by Bailey, made its appearance as it does in every show and on every recording.

There was lots of ‘put your hands together’, ‘are you feeling good’, ‘this is a song for the ladies’. They’ve been saying these words to audiences for 48 years, but I still believed them.

Inside the venue, it was ‘Saturday night’ and ‘the moon was bright’. With so many years of music to choose from, not every song was great, however, every song was masterfully performed. Recording quality reproductions of their hits were kept fresh and fun, with Cuban, rap influences, rock guitar solos, as some of the much younger members of the touring group spun and leapt in the air.

During the opening bars of ‘Fantasy’, exuberant couples galloped down the aisle to join those at the front of the stage who’d never sat down in the first place. The audience rocked the Sony Centre, singing ‘Ba de ah, say do you remember, ba de ah, dancing in September’, then lost any remaining reserve for ‘Let’s Groove’. It was a happening – we were all Shining Stars, young, inspired, uplifted, joyful.

We reluctantly allowed the band to leave after their encores, and then bounced happily out of the venue to a recording of ‘Boogie Wonderland’.

© Gloria Blizzard is a Toronto-based writer

       Photo: Earth, Wind & Fire