Along with Columbia Records label mates Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chicago spearheaded the "horn sound" of the early 1970s. Striking a balance between the big band and jazz elements of a pronounced horn section with the more traditional rock 'n' roll foundation of a four piece guitar-bass-drums-keyboard unit, Chicago would prove to be one of the most prolific bands of the decade and enjoy remarkable career longevity. Since they emerged in 1969, with the now legendary Chicago Transit Authority double album, they maintained a near-locked position in the Billboard Top 40.
Capturing a live performance by Chicago in superior quality to their ambitious quadruple album set from Carnegie Hall, this King Biscuit Flower Hour recording has been held in high esteem by hard-core Chicago fans and live recording enthusiasts alike for decades. Since the initial 1974 hour-long KBFH broadcast of edited highlights and expanded (but still incomplete) versions being distributed to major city FM radio stations for subsequent rebroadcasts, much confusion has surrounded these recordings. Since numerous FM radio transmissions have occurred over the years, these recordings have circulated in countless permutations, always incomplete and often with broadcast dates rather than the actual recording date of June 12, 1974. Recorded near the tail end of the tour promoting their seventh album, arguably the group's most experimental studio effort, this was a most interesting time to experience the band onstage. Near the middle of the band's glory years, when the initial lineup was still firmly intact and inspired, this recording showcases the unique chemistry that the group could channel onstage and captures the dynamics of the horn section far better than the Carnegie Hall recordings. A few short years before founding member and guitarist Terry Kath died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound, this live recording documents a time when Chicago was near the peak of their powers, enjoying the middle years of a nearly 10-year run as one of the most successful pop groups in the world.
Here for the first time, we present the complete recordings of the first of the two sets recorded that memorable night in Louisville. Appropriately enough, Chicago begins with "Introduction," the pile driving Terry Kath composition that opened their debut album. Not surprisingly, this song features powerhouse guitar playing from Kath and this raw, highly energetic blues-oriented number fuses elements of blues, jazz, and rock into a style uniquely their own. Next up is the first song performed from Chicago 7, their new album at the time. Trumpeter Lee Loughnane's first writing contribution to the band, "Call On Me" would become yet another hit in Chicago's hit-laden repertoire. Keyboardist Robert Lamm, the most prolific of the group's songwriters, is showcased on the next two numbers, with a tight performance of "Saturday In The Park," followed by "Something In The City Changes People," representing two of the more memorable songs from the group's fifth and sixth albums.
They next venture into another number from the new album, Aire. A collaborative composition written by Pankow, Parazaider, and Seraphine, this instrumental best represents the experimental nature of the seventh album. Having become enamored with the jazz-rock fusion movement, the group entered the studio initially intent on recording an instrumental-heavy jazz-influenced album, but reportedly, bassist Peter Cetera and longtime producer William Guercio were both skeptical about taking such a dramatic step. With an album's worth of instrumental material too strong to ignore, and the group also writing enough pop and rock material to fill another album in the meantime, they decided to release all of it as yet another double album, a format they hadn't pursued since their third album. This proved to be a wise decision. Despite the first disc being almost exclusively jazz-influenced instrumentals, the album went to #1 and "Aire" is the track that kicked off the album. Featuring tight ensemble playing with strong solos by several of the members, "Aire" displays the band continuing to evolve and take chances, with compelling results. Throughout this set and on this track in particular, the Brazilian jazz percussionist Laudir de Oliveira makes tasteful contributions, adding flavor and percussive propulsion to the group's overall sound.
Next up is a delightful reading of Lamm's "Beginnings," one of the group's signature songs from the first album, before they close the set by venturing into material from their second album, with Pankow's ambitious song cycle, "Ballet For A Girl In Bucchannon." Better known for the two top ten hits this suite of songs featured, "Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World," this is a tour-de-force performance and a dynamic closer to the first set of the evening. Fifteen minutes long in its entirety, with a structure inspired by Pankow's love of classical music, this became the centerpiece on the band's breakthrough second album and it is even more compelling here—a testament to their undeniable creativity. This set closer also proves that Chicago's early success was no result of studio enhancements or gimmicks. This is a live band that is quite capable of backing up the promise of their best studio recordings onstage.