By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -
The challenge for any tribute band, playing the music of a well-known artist, is coming as close as possible to the original recording.
Brass Transit, covering the music of Chicago, comes very close. Almost too close for comfort, at least if you’re Chicago itself.
For the Grand Rapids Symphony’s D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops audience, what might be uncomfortably close for Chicago was just right for Cannonsburg Ski Area and the Grand Rapids Pops.
Brass Transit, with Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt leading the Grand Rapids Symphony, nailed it on Friday, July 21 with “The Musical Legacy of Chicago.”
The second week of the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops celebrated the music of one of the longest-running, most successful bands in the history of rock music.
Remarkably, Chicago still is on tour. But the band founded in 1967, which still has four of its original members, has musicians well into their 70s.
If you heard Chicago live and on tour in the 1970s or 80s, Brass Transit takes you back there with note-perfect performance of songs such as “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” and “Questions 67 & 68.”
The Picnic Pops audience came to have fun, clapping along on the opening of “Saturday in the Park” and waving arms and cell phones to “Hard To Say I’m Sorry.”
On “Color My World,” you almost couldn’t find space to dance because so many couples were on their feet, swaying to the music.
The original Chicago sound was all about the horns. Songs such as “Feeling Stronger Every Day” started strong and ended even stronger, thanks to trumpeter Tony Carlucci, saxophonist Phil Poppa and trombonist Doug Gibson. In best Chicago fashion, they were all over the stage and, occasionally, down on the floor among the table seats on “Beginnings.”
The second phase of Chicago was all about the ballads. Lead vocalist Ian Jutsun is no poor substitute for Peter Cetera. On songs such as “If You Leave Me Now” and “You’re the Inspiration,” he hits all the high notes but with even more power and punch than Cetera himself
The Grand Rapids Symphony, meanwhile, helped turn songs such as “I’ve Been Searching So Long” into an epic experience across two nights of music making at Cannonsburg Ski Area.
The group of musicians from Toronto is solid top to bottom.
Guitarist Bob McAlpine tore through “25 or 6 to 4,” beginning with a nod to the late guitarist Terry Kath, but ending with show-stopping solo of his own.
Drummer Paul Delong is a wizard at the kit. His extended drum solo on “I’m a Man” ended with an enthusiastic, semi-standing ovation -- mostly because the song still was going.
Chicago, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer, charted 50 songs from 1969 through 1997 on the Hot 100 chart.
Even if the original group retires in the years ahead, Brass Transit is primed and ready to keep the music playing.