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Lewis and his bandmates -- bassist Larry Gray and drummer Leon Joyce -- engaged in some playful memory-jarring at times, segueing, for example, from "The In Crowd" to "On Broadway" to "Baby, Whatcha Want Me to Do" -- all to the crowd's delight. At other times, however, the mood evoked Lewis's upbringing in the church, via ringing gospel chords and spiritual refrains that the audience softly echoed. Dramatic shifts in dynamics frequently came into play, with bassist Gray's bowed recital of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" creating a particularly soulful interlude.
Lewis and Joyce made for a whimsical pairing when trading riffs, but the drummer-percussionist also was cast in a sharply contrasting role while deftly shading ballads that inspired chamber-jazz-like arrangements. Among the new Lewis tunes -- and certainly among the most rhythmically vibrant -- was "To Know . . .," a piece the composer recently performed with the Joffrey Ballet.
-- Mike Joyce
Chicago headlined Friday's entertainment bill at AARP's 50th-anniversary gathering at the Washington Convention Center. It was a gig the band had prepped for from its beginnings.
Chicago's brand of rock-and-roll never did smell like teen spirit, anyway. The group was formed in the late 1960s, a time when psychedelia and guitar heroes were the rage. But Chicago relied on jazz flourishes -- how many other rock bands had lead trombone players? -- and sang plenty of tunes with lyrics designed for an aged audience.
That trombonist, James Pankow (one of four original members still in Chicago), wrote many of the wistful smashes the group put on the charts. His "Make Me Smile," from 1970, looked back on "the dreams we shared so long ago" while 1975's "Old Days" recollected drive-in movies and "good times gone away."
Chicago did make a few excursions to its trippy side, reminding the audience of that period of their lives when drugs weren't taken only on doctor's orders. Original member Robert Lamm sang "Can you dig it?" during his "Saturday in the Park," a tune about not being able to tell what day it was. There were also "25 or 6 to 4," a jam built around not being able to tell what time it was, and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?," a high-minded argument that such things don't matter anyway.
Bass player Jason Scheff took most of the vocal leads on lite-jazz ballads (among them "If You Leave Me Now" and "Hard to Say I'm Sorry") originally sung by the guy he replaced in 1985, Peter Cetera. Keyboardist Bill Champlin, a Chicagoan since 1982, crooned the best of the band's many sappy singles, "Look Away," a tune written by pop craftswoman Diane Warren.
But the highlight of this occasionally quite raucous oldies-for-oldies show was undoubtedly the all-hands singalong of Cetera and Pankow's 1973 hit, "Feelin' Stronger Every Day!" If that ain't an AARP rallying cry, what is?