Midway through Earth, Wind & Fire’s Hollywood Bowl concert Friday night (Sept. 13), the venerable band broke into “Fantasy.” As lead singer Philip Bailey’s falsetto wound over and under the 1978 hit, one line stood out: “Our voices will ring forever, as one.”
That’s exactly what was happening inside the sold-out Bowl as the audience energetically chimed in on that song and more R&B/pop classics during the multiple Grammy-winning group’s nearly two-hour set. Setting the tone early on with 1975’s “Sing a Song,” EWF traced significant musical milestones in its five-decade career enduring hits and fan faves such as “Shining Star,” Kalimba Story,” “That’s the Way of the World,” “Evil,” “Head to the Sky,” “Devotion” and “Boogie Wonderland.” After showing off on a suite of the band’s signature ballads (“Can’t Hide Love,” “After the Love Has Gone” and Reasons”), Bailey left no doubt that his four-octave range can still pack a punch.
“Can you believe it?” he declared as the second half of the show got underway. “It’s almost 50 years for us … with music that was meant to make a positive difference. Are we still making you feel good?”
Equally pulling no punches were fellow EWF originals Verdine White and Ralph Johnson. Bass guitarist White remains an age-defying whirling dervish as he simultaneously churned out pulsating beats. Johnson smoothly accented the proceedings on percussion while admirably assisting Bailey on vocals. Several talented next-gen members of the band were also given the chance to share the spotlight, among them music director/keyboardist Myron McKinley, guitarists Morris O’Connor and Srdjan Dimitrijevic, sax man Gary Bias and vocalists B. David Whitworth and Bailey’s son Philip D. Bailey. EWF wraps its two-date stand at the Bowl on Saturday (Sept. 14).
Not far from anyone’s mind was EWF’s guiding force, the late Maurice White. In one of the evening’s most memorable moments, the band launched into the adrenaline-fueled No. 1 R&B/No. 13 pop hit “Serpentine Fire.” Playing right along at the same time on a giant video screen was a vintage clip of all the original EWF members performing the song with White.
Accompanying EWF throughout the set was the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Wilkins. The evening culminated with a vibrant fireworks display prefaced by “Let’s Groove” and further punctuated by “September.” Both songs had the Bowl audience — in which were spotted jazz musician/composer Terence Blanchard and Evan Ross and wife Ashlee Simpson — dancing in their seats and the aisles. If last night is any indication, Earth, Wind & Fire will definitely have the Kennedy Center rocking from wall to wall when the band is saluted at the 42nd annual Kennedy Center Honors on Dec. 8.