CD Review: Chicago, “Live in ’75”

Chicago, the band, was at the height of its considerable powers in 1975, racking up Top Ten albums and singles (“Old Days,” one of their best, hit Number Five that year), and touring successfully with the Beach Boys (with whom they’d scored a big hit—”Wishing You Were Here”—a year earlier). Onstage, the band could be by turns goofy (with their schmoozy between-song banter), smooth (as when bassist Peter Cetera sang one of his slow-burning love songs), snappy (as when the band’s hot horn section kicked in), and—let’s just get it out there—pretentious (see 1971’s Chicago at Carnegie Hall for beaucoup examples. And beaucoup instrument tuning).

All of this made them great—well, maybe not the goofy stuff. Pretention can sometimes work, particularly, when it leads an artist or band to try new things, venturing into strange new territory. Chicago’s massive sound filled the largest performance spaces this great land had to offer, which at the time were football stadiums and hockey arenas. Rhino Handmade has extracted from the proverbial vaults a couple Chicago shows from one of those hockey meccas (ye olde Capital Centre in Largo, MD) for a super-boffo package called Live in ’75.

First of all, that package is impressive, as befits a Rhino Handmade product—they’re the best at this stuff, and it shows. For Live in ’75, you get two CDs, a poster, and a booklet with a fine essay by MOJO magazine US correspondent Ben Edmonds. There are lots of pictures of the band (though, strangely enough, few of the aforementioned Mr. Cetera, a currently estranged Chicagoan), and everything is tucked snuggly into a sturdy, tastefully decorated box. It looks like a masterpiece; it reads like a masterpiece; it must be a masterpiece, right?

Um … not so much. Chicago might have been a touring force in 1975, and they might have laid down the groove and the schmooze for tens of thousands of fans each night, but the folks at the Cap Centre shows did not get the best of the band. We’re all used to live albums that have been touched up a bit—vocal clams corrected, out-of-tune instruments replaced, etc.—but this is the real deal; what we’re hearing is what the audience got (perhaps mixed a bit louder or re-EQ’ed). And what the audience got was a bunch of uneven performances, many of which have, for better or worse, been preserved for eternity on Live in ’75.

Let’s start with the good news—the horns sound great. Splendid. Striking. Snappy. It’s hard to argue with anything that has the Chicago horn section on it. They even looked the part—there’s a photo of trombonist James Pankow included in the booklet, and he’s rockin’ the flashy, sleeveless Earth, Wind, & Fire jumpsuit (it’s 1975, man—that shit wuz dope). Lee Loughnane’s trumpet strays into angel Gabriel territory (dear God, but “Mongonucleosis” is so good), and good ol’ Walt Parazaider uses those little woodwind and sax flourishes like a painter adding detail to his canvas.

The rhythm section pretty much holds their own throughout; on “25 or 6 to 4,” they sound like they might have even lifted off into low orbit. The late, great Terry Kath was a monster on guitar, and could sing the sleepy prom slow dance “Colour My World” like he was whispering it into your ear. On “Wishing You Were Here,” though, it sounded like he himself was taking a nap, only to be roused awake by Cetera’s off-key traipse through the chorus.

Oh my God, but Cetera spreads off-key badness all over this thing. On “Old Days,” his falsetto makes him sound like Screechy Gibb, the Bee Gees’ bastard cousin. He clearly pisses off Robert Lamm during “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is,” attempting notes in his background vocal that were clearly beyond him that night; this did not stop him from trying. Repeatedly. On “Call On Me,” Cetera can’t quite make it through the chorus without sounding like he was hocking up a loogie, before slipping back into bastard Bee Gee mode. By “25 or 6 to 4,” the band should have covered his nose and mouth with a tube sock soaked in chloroform, and let him sleep off whatever the hell it was that ailed him.

Cetera is so bad on these songs, it makes me wonder how this recording made it out of the bootleg black market—his performances are really distracting, and really embarrassing. That fact, coupled with the lack of any close-up photograph of Cetera anywhere in the package makes me wonder whether Live in ’75 might have been, however secondarily, an attempt to besmirch his legacy with the band. I have no proof of this, but I’m happy to start a good conspiracy theory.

Lamm comes off the best of the three voices on this night; his smooth baritone is the highlight of “Beginnings,” the verses of “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is,” and the older, wiser half of “Dialogue.” And by the time the band plows through one of its legendary jams on “I’m A Man” (the one here goes 13 spectacular minutes), the audience was probably keying in on Lamm, and in a forgiving mood. Either that or they were really, really high.

So there you have it. If you dig mid-Seventies Chicago, check out Live in ’75, but tread carefully. The horns are great; the jams are cool; the clams are many.




  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    “Cetera is so bad on these songs, it makes me wonder how this recording
    made it out of the bootleg black market—his performances are really
    distracting, and really embarrassing. That fact, coupled with the lack
    of any close-up photograph of Cetera anywhere in the package makes me
    wonder whether Live in ’75 might have been, however secondarily, an
    attempt to besmirch his legacy with the band. I have no proof of this,
    but I’m happy to start a good conspiracy theory.”

    The very same thought occurred to me. Cetera holds up his end of the bargain on bass, but holy shit are his vocals atrocious. I have a hard time believing they couldn’t find a better show to represent him.

  • jack

    The idea that the band would approve a show where the only glaring problems are Mr. Cetera’s vocals not only sounds plausible, but the idea makes me giddy. it’s not like the Handmade line is going to set the charts on fire. Why not give a smackdown to the guy who did it all for the glory of love?

  • Dan Almont

    Isn’t a major label album release a rather costly way of making a point that could be made in a blog post?

  • smf2271

    You gotta wonder if Pete was getting over a cold or something on that particular night.  Still, I’m curious to hear it, and I’m glad that someone out there is attempting to remind us that Chicago were once a really cool, progressive, adventurous musical outfit that actually was big on college radio.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget the other big pluses – the loose n’ groovin’ jam sections in “Just You N’ Me” and that bridge between “To Be Free” and “Now More Than Ever” that remind us that – at one time – Chicago was truly a *band* that could really *play* in a way that showed how passionate they were about what they were doing, not to mention the really funky kick-ass version of “Ain’t It Blue” that smokes the studio recording. There was clearly a lot of *fun* happening on this tour, and that’s what makes the warts so endearing to me. They had not yet become stiff, jaded professionals. They were still riding high and feeling full of fire in this set. I still prefer the stronger moments of Carnegie Hall and Live in Japan to this album, but I wouldn’t trade in “Live in ’75” ever.

    The only major complaint I have with the set is that it completely plays down the Beach Boys connection. Chicago and the Beach Boys were touring partners in ’75, and it would have been sweet if both camps could have collaborated one more time to recreate the experience in a recording that represented both bands’ sets along with the integrated performances from this tour that have been written about. I mean, come on, how could they not give us “God Only Knows” with the Chicago horns, Robert Lamm singing on “Surf’s Up”, Peter Cetera singing “Darlin'” and Mike Love dueting with Cetera on “Feeling Stronger Every Day”? This is the stuff of legend, and even if the recordings turned out to reveal bands that were having a little *too* much fun, hey, it would still be a cool keepsake to own.

  • Rich W

    The sets at Wolfgang’s Vault are much better, warts and all, with some good video of Terry Kath. I gave away my “Handmade”.

  • Rich W

    The sets at Wolfgang’s Vault are much better, warts and all, with some good video of Terry Kath. I gave away my “Handmade”.

  • Rich W

    The sets at Wolfgang’s Vault are much better, warts and all, with some good video of Terry Kath. I gave away my “Handmade”.

  • Brian

    Here’s the deal with this album: it sucks.  this is coming from as big of a chicago fan as any!  I don’t know what Rob Smith was listening to, but – “the horns sound great” are you crazy!!  They sound terrible.  Lee barely had enough breath to play, that’s why you get that “grating” sound throughout.  As far as peter – I’m not a huge peter cetera fan and don’t feel like i need to defend him as he probably couldn’t care less…but here’s what i hear.  From working with many singers I can tell you that they like to “save” their voices for their leads.  No one wants to blow out their voices singing background to someone elses tune, especially if you’re singing night after night.  If they had plans to release this back in the day, then sure, they would have sang.  Robert’s voice is no where to be heard in the back and trerry sang very softly in the background…Peter, on the other hand, unselfishly sang his parts, as well as carring most of the leads.  In call on me he is singing the high harmony – probably because he was the only one who could get up there.  When you do that the others have to sing their parts – and sing out, as they say – to make it blend and complete it.  He wasn’t out of tune but all you hear is that high harmony by itself and it sounds terrible.  BTW Terri sings the “older, wiser half of dianogue” – not Robert. 

  • Brian

    Here’s the deal with this album: it sucks.  this is coming from as big of a chicago fan as any!  I don’t know what Rob Smith was listening to, but – “the horns sound great” are you crazy!!  They sound terrible.  Lee barely had enough breath to play, that’s why you get that “grating” sound throughout.  As far as peter – I’m not a huge peter cetera fan and don’t feel like i need to defend him as he probably couldn’t care less…but here’s what i hear.  From working with many singers I can tell you that they like to “save” their voices for their leads.  No one wants to blow out their voices singing background to someone elses tune, especially if you’re singing night after night.  If they had plans to release this back in the day, then sure, they would have sang.  Robert’s voice is no where to be heard in the back and trerry sang very softly in the background…Peter, on the other hand, unselfishly sang his parts, as well as carring most of the leads.  In call on me he is singing the high harmony – probably because he was the only one who could get up there.  When you do that the others have to sing their parts – and sing out, as they say – to make it blend and complete it.  He wasn’t out of tune but all you hear is that high harmony by itself and it sounds terrible.  BTW Terri sings the “older, wiser half of dianogue” – not Robert. 

  • Stonen_

    I was there at the late Capital Center in Largofor one of the three nights.  I love 70’s Chicago, but they were so bad that it prompted me to write a complaint letter, which Robert Lamm respnded to (in handwriting, not a form letter).  He agreed and said that there was a lot going on and to “keep the faith.” My date was so impressed that she said “Chicago sucks.”  So I wonder what prompted them to put this out now?

  • Stonen_

    I was there at the late Capital Center in Largofor one of the three nights.  I love 70’s Chicago, but they were so bad that it prompted me to write a complaint letter, which Robert Lamm respnded to (in handwriting, not a form letter).  He agreed and said that there was a lot going on and to “keep the faith.” My date was so impressed that she said “Chicago sucks.”  So I wonder what prompted them to put this out now?

  • Stonen_

    I was there at the late Capital Center in Largofor one of the three nights.  I love 70’s Chicago, but they were so bad that it prompted me to write a complaint letter, which Robert Lamm respnded to (in handwriting, not a form letter).  He agreed and said that there was a lot going on and to “keep the faith.” My date was so impressed that she said “Chicago sucks.”  So I wonder what prompted them to put this out now?

  • Stonen_

    I was there at the late Capital Center in Largofor one of the three nights.  I love 70’s Chicago, but they were so bad that it prompted me to write a complaint letter, which Robert Lamm respnded to (in handwriting, not a form letter).  He agreed and said that there was a lot going on and to “keep the faith.” My date was so impressed that she said “Chicago sucks.”  So I wonder what prompted them to put this out now?

  • Stonen_

    I was there at the late Capital Center in Largofor one of the three nights.  I love 70’s Chicago, but they were so bad that it prompted me to write a complaint letter, which Robert Lamm respnded to (in handwriting, not a form letter).  He agreed and said that there was a lot going on and to “keep the faith.” My date was so impressed that she said “Chicago sucks.”  So I wonder what prompted them to put this out now?

  • Tony U

    Certainly not their best performance but has it’s moments. Check out the wolfgangs
    vault concerts or if you can find their 77 show from nassau coliseum that’s floating around on the net. Especially the 77 show the band sounds very good and the audience is pumped. Still miss Terry Kath’s energy. It’s nice to have any recording with him on it. I wish Chicago would consider a bootleg series with some of the better stuff that’s out there because there is some good stuff available.

  • beenthere

    I was at one of the Cap Centre performances in ’75 as an 18 year old (going on 19). It remains, to this day, the most awesome concert I ever attended! Bar none. Period. Most of the so-called critics weren’t there. I was.