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Chicago, Brian Wilson brings the classics to the East Bay

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022. Sean Liming/STAFF.

CONCORD – Legendary songwriter Brian Wilson of the The Beach Boys and legendary band Chicago brought the classics to the Concord Pavilion on Saturday night, thrilling a packed house of classic rock fans.

First up was Wilson, along with his Beach Boys bandmate and childhood friend Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin (who was briefly with the Beach Boys in the ’70s and was a touring member of the Rolling Stones in the ’90s and ’00s), as well as nine other backing musicians including Jardine’s son Matt as a vocalist.

Brian Wilson himself spent the show sitting at a piano, though his main role was as a singer. Due to his age and health—he needed a walker to get on and off stage—he didn’t sing on every song and mostly on the verses, but when he did sing it was far better than one would expect. While most musicians of his age have lost a step vocally, he still sounds like the Brian Wilson you remember, which is no small feat.

The rest of the show was more of a celebration of Wilson’s genius than a traditional performance. It was one of the greatest songwriters—if not the greatest songwriter—in American history surrounded by his friends and admirers as they performed some of his greatest works. Al Jardine did most of the talking, though Wilson did throw some comments in from time to time.

Brian Wilson, Al Jardine

Brian Wilson.

When Brian Wilson did perform, especially on “Sloop John B” and the beautiful “God Only Knows,” it was truly special. It’s not often you get to hear an artist who, over a 60-year career, inspired countless musicians from garage bands to the Beatles perform his work, regardless of his age or level of involvement.

The crescendo of the show was the pseudo-encore at the end featuring the trifecta of “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me Rhonda” and “Surfin’ USA,” three of the most cheerful and danceable songs of Wilson’s catalog. The finale was Wilson himself singing the deeply personal “Love and Mercy,” from his first solo album in 1988. It was a difficult act to follow.

And yet, somehow, Chicago followed it.

Chicago, James Pankow, Ray Herrmann

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

With a band nearly as expansive as Wilson’s, including their signature horn section, Chicago opened up with a series of songs that were either instrumental or driven by the instrumentals rather than vocals, which created a vibe somewhere between a jazz show and a jam band. It was excellent, but slow to draw in fans.

“This is also a very special year because we’re celebrating 55 years,” original member and trombonist James Pankow said after a while. “No worries, we have a long way to go, and we’ll take you with us. This is also a very special year because for the first time in a long time, we’ll release a collection of new songs.”

They followed with new single “If This Is Goodbye,” then got into the biggest hits.

Fans began to get pulled in with classic singles “If You Leave Me Now,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” and “You’re a Hard Habit to Break.” The last of those showed the band’s range as a traditional rock ballad, ditching the horns entirely until the end.

Chicago, James Pankow, Tony Obrohta, Lee Loughnane, Walter Parazaider, Walfredo Rares Jr., Ray Herrmann, Neil Donell, Ramon Yslas, Loren Gold, Eric Baines

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

The peak of the show, though, was Chicago’s extended rendition of “I’m a Man.” The large band came out blazing and only picked up the pace, showing a level of energy bands a fraction of their age can’t maintain, before leaving the stage and giving the two drummers the spotlight for an extended drum solo. Now, this can be tedious, especially when they last as long as this one did, but the staggering talent and showmanship of Walfredo Reyes, Jr. and Ramon Yslas made this one absolutely compelling. They paced the stage with hand-held percussion instruments, they swapped drum kits without missing a beat, they synchronized and traded call-and-response licks. Then everyone came back and finished the song.

“I’m a Man” should really end the show, because while much slower ballad “Just You ‘n’ Me” that followed was good, it was hard to really take it in while still reeling from the previous spectacle.

Chicago closed out the show with hits “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “Saturday in the Park” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” which were all the sort of crowd-pleasers that got whoops and cheers from just the first couple notes. The encore was “Free,” followed by the song many were waiting for, arguably their most lasting crossover hit: “25 or 6 to 4,” which sent the crowd off with ringing ears and smiles on their faces.

Chicago, James Pankow, Ray Herrmann

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Chicago, James Pankow, Ray Herrmann

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Chicago, Robert Lamm

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Chicago, James Pankow, Ray Herrmann

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Chicago, James Pankow, Tony Obrohta, Lee Loughnane, Walter Parazaider, Walfredo Rares Jr., Ray Herrmann, Neil Donell, Ramon Yslas, Loren Gold, Eric Baines

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Chicago, Ray Herrmann

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.


Concord Pavilion

Fans watch as Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Chicago, James Pankow, Tony Obrohta, Lee Loughnane, Walter Parazaider, Walfredo Rares Jr., Ray Herrmann, Neil Donell, Ramon Yslas, Loren Gold, Eric Baines

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Concord Pavilion

Fans watch as Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Chicago, James Pankow, Tony Obrohta, Lee Loughnane, Walter Parazaider, Walfredo Rares Jr., Ray Herrmann, Neil Donell, Ramon Yslas, Loren Gold, Eric Baines

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Chicago, James Pankow, Tony Obrohta, Lee Loughnane, Walter Parazaider, Walfredo Rares Jr., Ray Herrmann, Neil Donell, Ramon Yslas, Loren Gold, Eric Baines

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Chicago, James Pankow, Tony Obrohta, Lee Loughnane, Walter Parazaider, Walfredo Rares Jr., Ray Herrmann, Neil Donell, Ramon Yslas, Loren Gold, Eric Baines

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.


Chicago, James Pankow, Tony Obrohta, Lee Loughnane, Walter Parazaider, Walfredo Rares Jr., Ray Herrmann, Neil Donell, Ramon Yslas, Loren Gold, Eric Baines

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Chicago

Chicago performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Al Jardine

Al Jardine performs with Brian Wilson at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Brian Wilson, Al Jardine

Brian Wilson and Al Jardine perform at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.


Concord Pavilion

Fans dance as Brian Wilson performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin

Brian Wilson performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Brian Wilson, Al Jardine

Brian Wilson and Al Jardine perform at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Brian Wilson, Al Jardine

Brian Wilson performs at Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif. on June 11, 2022.

Follow publisher Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData. Follow photographer Sean Liming at Instagram.com/S.Liming.

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