Every year, one of the large law firms in town, Baron and Budd, throws an elaborate Christmas party. To call it a Christmas party does not begin to give you a sense of the scale of the thing. It’s held at the estate of Fred Baron and Lisa Blue. They invite several thousand of their closets friends. That’s probably about 1800 more folks than would fit in their house comfortably (large as it is…) so the pitch a HUGE tent onto the back of the house. I mean HUGE. I’m talking 30-40,000 square feet huge. (My best SWAG)
They put down a wood floor. The “tent” has three rooms…a front bar area…a side ballroom, and a main ballroom. There’s a full bar in each and food buffets in each too.
There’s always entertainment too. The main room has a large stage and dance floor at the front of it. In years past, they’ve had some folks who’ve gone on to become pretty famous. They had the Dixie Chicks, back when they were still mostly based in Dallas. Last year, they had Hermann’s Hermits.
This year, when our invitation came in the mail, it promised the entertainment would be Chicago. Now, I’ve already written to you about my love for Chicago. And I’ve told you about this party, just to help you realize that it was not theoretically impossible that they would show up for this show. I mean, this is one BIG party.
But, Chicago?! Playing in a private home?! The entire band?!
There was something in me that just couldn’t really believe it was possible. I’d seen them too many times in huge arenas, with tens of thousands of fans, to imagine that they could play, would play, in a private home….even a large one.
But, sure enough, Dennise and I showed up for the party, and there they were. The whole band.
I was stunned. And, because it was just a dance floor at the front of the room, I got to get just as close as I could. I stood about three feet from the stage for the majority of this show.
From left to right: (trombone player??!!), Walt Parazaider, Lee Loughnane, Jason Scheff:
The view from farther back (about a third of the way back in the room…)
Walt Parazaider takes the solo on “Does Anybody Real Know?” while standing about two feet from me:
Anyway, it was an amazing show. I really couldn’t believe I was there, and that I was seeing them that close…and at a private home. (Again, you do have to consider the home and the context…)
But even more amazing than the fact that the whole band was there was the set that they played. They really pulled out the stops and reached back into some relatively obscure stuff that even I, fan that I am, was surprised to see them do. (Surprised, but very pleased)
Here’s the set list, as much as I could scribble down on the Treo:
Dialogue (Parts I and II)
Question 67 & 68* (No kidding…)
If You Leave Me Now
Stone of Sisyphus* (more on this later…)
Stay the Night
Caroline* (from the brand new CD)
Hard Habit to Break
Your Not Alone
I’ve Been Searching So Long
Mongonucleousis* (Again, I kid you not…they really played it.)
Another Rainy Day in New York City* (No kidding…see shocked comment above…)
Happy Man* (Just when you thought it could get no more shocking…)
(Blues song with Bill Champlin in the lead…sorry…don’t know the name…)
Ballad for a Girl in Buchannon (slightly shortened version
Just You and Me
Saturday in the Park
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Back
25 or 6 to 4
I’m a Man
I kid you not about the set list. I wouldn’t have believed some of these myself, had I not seen them. I’ve seen Chicago maybe ten times (maybe more) in the past 25 years, and I’ve never heard some of these songs. (the ones with an asterisks above…) I mean, when they broke into “Mongonucleousis,” “Rainy Day,” and “Happy Man,” I thought to myself, is this the same band I always knew?!!
Obviously not. Obviously, over time, they’ve matured and become more comfortable doing songs that THEY want to do….which I personally think is very, very cool. It was truly unbelievable.
I should note, in full disclosure, that James Pankow was not with the group. In online discussion groups, it was said that he had had a recent mouth surgery…which makes it kinda tough to play the trombone, I suppose. But, there was other speculation –idle, I hope– that he was drawing back from the band in some way. I hope that’s not the case.
I list a song called “The Stone of Sisyphus” in this set, and I’m pretty sure they did it. Or at least it was a song I didn’t realize, and it made me to some online searching, which caused me to uncover an amazing story about a CD that was never released.
It was their last struggle with Warner Bros/Reprise Records, back in the early-to-mid-90s. Somehow, I missed the whole controversy. But basically, they delivered a mostly done CD to the label, and the classic old struggle ensued: the label didn’t think it was commercial enough and so they sat on it. You can read up on it here. Dawayne Bailey, their guitarist at the time, has his own page about the CD. Then, there’s this page that discusses the CD at length. Finally, a lengthy paper written on “SoS” here.
The history of this CD seems to mirror the actual Greek tale of Sisyphus himself…who rolled the stone up the hill, only to see it fall back down again. This CD was to be the band’s return to a more full, rich, and edgy Chicago sound. As you know, they’d had a string of radio-friendly pop hits at this point. But nothing like their old, edgy stuff. THIS CD was supposed to put them back on the path to their real, true, band sound. And let me tell you, friends: Stone of Sisyphus is GOOD…REALLY good. It’s one of the best Chicago CDs I’ve ever heard. You are now, I’m sure, wondering how I’ve heard it. And if I told you, I’d have to kill you.
Sufficed to say, I have heard it, and it’s amazing. One online review who has heard it called it one of the greatest unreleased CD in music history. I would not call that an understatement.
But it was never released. And the band would not release another studio CD for years.
Which leads me to wonder:
First, if a band like Chicago…
…with five consecutive number one albums
…20 Top Ten Singles
…fifteen platinum albums
…thirty -seven songs that charted at some level over
…can be stymied by the record labels, dear God, isn’t the whole industry really, really screwed up!? I mean, in case you didn’t believe it already, isn’t this proof?!!
And so, that does this mean for the rest of us poor Joes out here? If Chicago’s CD can be canned, how does anyone stand a chance of making good music these days?