During their 45 years as a band, Earth, Wind & Fire had to have stumbled upon some sort of fountain, wellspring or tide pool of youth somewhere along the way.
Though a rep surely aids the seminal R&B-soul-jazz fusion band, it’s the three OG members — Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson — who set the tone and unleashed a youth movement in Overture Hall early Friday night.
A few ticks past 8 p.m., an audience well over the average age of any typical concert in Madison filled Overture Hall to near capacity. Your correspondent must have been in the first percentile in terms of age. Sept- and perhaps even octogenarians on all sides accompanied me. Despite the advanced age of the crowd, though, my fellow attendees matched and many times surpassed the energy of the more youthful crowds I’ve become accustomed to.
With excited breaths and hushed conversations, the crowd awaited the hitmakers and tastemakers while the stage was washed over in red light. A brief and deliciously cheesy vignette played on the giant Overture screen just before the near-dozen members of Earth, Wind & Fire seized the stage.
They came out swinging with “Sing a Song” and “Shining Star” — two of their biggest hits — before settling into lesser known cuts like “Getaway” and “Jupiter.” This approach was consistent throughout the evening with the band switching between hits and deeper cuts, while staying firmly rooted in the bands prime era (the ‘70s and early ‘80s). Bailey was confident the “true fans” would appreciate the songs that “weren’t on the charts but made from their hearts.”
He was definitely right.
Those in attendance were feeling it. At times on their feet to songs like “Boogie Wonderland” and at others sitting soaked in nostalgia to “That’s the Way of the World.” Both slow and fast dancing couples abounded during the more upbeat songs.
Bailey addressed the crowd a few times in between some of the tracks while the band played softly in the background. He spoke mostly in platitudes but not cliches. He was positive without being saccharine about it. He and the other living original members of Earth, Wind & Fire have clearly seen some shit and lost friends along the way of their nearly semi-cenetarian journey as a band but they hardly showed it.
As they played their mega-hit “September,” Bailey crooning, White prancing around in a blouse and dazzling purple pants and Johnson standing enraptured in the song, they showed the lasting and enduring power of good songwriting harnessed for good.
I don’t know if any band could come out so positive, so energetic after so long without having channeled all of their collective musical powers into bringing light into the world rather than reflecting its darkness.
More than escapism, Earth, Wind & Fire are a testament to building the world as one might want to see in their art. Hopefully one day, they’ll be seen as jazzy, stargazing prophets. But if not, at least future generations can relearn their decades worth of lessons.