August 3, 2017 The Classic East Magical At Citi Field Corona, NY 7-30-17
Following the three amazing performances of The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, and the Eagles on the first day of The Classic East, many wondered how it could get any better. Well, on Sunday, July 30th, there was plenty more to be excited about as Earth, Wind & Fire, Journey, and Fleetwood Mac prepared to perform. Three more bands from the hallowed halls of Rock-n-Roll royalty, Citi Field was prepared for an equally large turn out on the final day of the two day Classic Rock festival.
On this day, the weather would be much more on par with the season as temperatures reached the mid 80s and a ton of sun beamed down from a cloudless sky. In all actuality, it would be a perfect day to head out to the ballpark to catch a game, but instead, everyone came together in the name of America’s other national pastime, Rock-n-Roll.
Running an identical format as the day prior, concert goers were permitted access into the venue just after 3:00 PM, allowing enough time to get refreshments and find their seats. With little to no lag, before anyone knew it, 5 PM arrived and on stage was the first act, Earth, Wind & Fire. Originating in Chicago, Illinois back in 1970, Earth, Wind & Fire would go on to to be one of the most successful bands of all-time. Shinier than the most polished gold coin, sharper than a sword, and filled with musical talent, this band has it all.
Selling more than 100 million records, members of the 2000 Rock and Roll of Fame class, and historic making as the first African-American act to sell out Madison Square Garden back in 1979, it seemed almost fitting Earth, Wind & Fire were back in New York City for this special event nearly four decades later. Known for their innovative mix of genres ranging from R&B to Soul, to Funk, to Jazz, to Pop, Rock and beyond, it is impossible to categorize Earth, Wind & Fire. In one breath, some may call them a Funk band, in others a Disco band, but to be fair, they are simply a very talented group of musicians celebrating the gift of sound.
Originally led by the great Maurice White, who tragically passed on in 2016, the band carries on in his honor with longtime bandmates Philip Bailey (vocals/percussion), Verdine White (bass/vocals), and Ralph Johnson (vocals/drums), along with later generation members Myron McKinley (keyboards), Philip Bailey, Jr. (backing vocals), B. David Whitworth (vocals/percussion), Morris O’Connor (guitar), Serg Dimitrijevic (guitar), as well as John Paris (drums/vocals). In addition, their horn section is currently filled out with Gary Bias on saxophone, Bobby Burns, Jr. on trumpet, and Reggie Young on trombone. That is a whole lot of members, but thankfully the stage of Classic East was big enough to hold them physically, but of course not musically.
Arriving with tons of energy, living up to their name, each member donned an eye-catching outfit to match the colorful performance. Smiling, in the groove, and simply enjoying life, they kicked off with “Shining Star” before later going into “Sing a Song,” and a great cover of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life.” Prompting everyone to get up and move right from the start, the bass output was so full and clean, it was impossible not to feel it rumble in your chest.
Moving about the stage, interacting with the audience, as well as one another, they soon offered hit songs such as “After the Love Has Gone,” “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” and “Let’s Groove,” with Bailey shining bright on lead vocals for “Fantasy,” before they concluded with “In the Stone.” A spark of emotion, positive vibes, and simply irresistible jams, Earth, Wind & Fire are still as much a force today as they were forty years earlier.
Comprised of original Guitarist Neal Schon and Bassist Ross Valory, Journey is completed with longtime Drummer Steve Smith and Keyboardist/Guitarist Jonathan Cain, but are really glued together by their newer generation Vocalist Arnel Pineda. Yes, there is only one Mr. Steve Perry, original vocalist of Journey, but Pineda has embraced the role as the band’s frontman for over a decade now, doing a phenomenal job.
The wind beneath Journey’s wings, per say, Pineda was an adrenaline rush from the moment he came out, jolting about the stage with ease, jumping around, and even entering the crowd at one point. Fitting his enthusiasm was an array of Journey classics, starting with “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” “Only the Young,” as well as “Anyway You Want It.” As mentioned, heavy, and yes loud, Journey was on fire as Schon blistered on lead guitar throughout each song, and especially shined during two flawlessly placed solo.
It was not all a Hard Rock assault on the eardrums though, taking it down a notch, they dedicated the beautiful song “Lights” to Perry across the country on the west coast, out in San Francisco. Then it was off to more all-time favorites with the complements of tremendous keywork from Cain on “Open Arms” and “Who’s Crying Now” before Smith punished his kit for his own drum solo. In between it all, the band did their share of personal connecting with the audience and perhaps the most touching moment was when Cain explained the story behind “Faithfully” and its purpose. A sentiment many can relate to in one way or another, emotions ran high as the set reached its peak with “Don’t Stop Believin’.” A natural karaoke tune, Journey gave it one last go as they embraced the crowd with “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” before saying goodnight. Still one of the best live bands around, Journey appear to have many more years of rocking ahead of them.
Touring consistently in recent years, until 2014, there was a hole in the heart of the band and their fans. That hole was the important piece of the puzzle, Keyboardist/Vocalist Christine McVie. Returning to the fold for the first time since 1998, the McVie reunion with Bassist John McVie, Guitarist/Vocalist Lindsey Buckingham, Vocalist Stevie Nicks, and father of Fleetwood Mac, Drummer Mick Fleetwood has since re-energized fans worldwide. Casting off The Classic East, it would be their first performance in New York City with McVie since playing Madison Square Garden in October of 2014, thus creating a thick layer of anticipation as fans clamored in the dark.
Cutting the tension, the band assembled on stage opening with “The Chain” before immediately allowing McVie a chance to shine on “You Make Loving Fun.” One of many songs McVie took the lead on, including a special performance of “Everywhere” and “Little Lies,” other favorites included “Say You Love Me.” Taking in the overwhelming excitement from the audience, McVie graciously thanked her bandmates for allowing her to return to Fleetwood Mac, but all anyone in the audience could think was, no Christine, thank you!
A band full of individual stars that shine ever so bright, Nicks also filled the air with her ever so unique singing on “Dreams,” “Rhiannon,” and “Landslide,” where she held back tears, dedicating the latter to the Eagles’ Glenn Frey upon its conclusion. Then, of course, Buckingham rocked hard on songs including “Second Hand News” and the experimental “Tusk.” Through it all, perhaps the boldest moment for Buckingham came during his rendition of “Never Going Back Again” where he harnessed all his emotion into a song which cuts close to the bone. Clearly engulfed in the track, after completing it, Buckingham pounded his chest and absorbed the mass of cheers almost as if it was a therapeutic release for him.
It was also telling to hear Buckingham open his heart, acknowledging the band’s trials and tribulations, but saying it is not about the individuals, but how Fleetwood Mac is greater than the sum of its parts. Very true, Buckingham confessed that beneath the surface of what the public eye sees, each member of this band truly do love one another. A lot to absorb, but delightful to hear such honesty, the show moved on at a steady pace with Nicks sounding outstanding on “Gypsy” and “Gold Dust Woman” before the anthemic “Go Your Own Way” had the entire stadium chanting along. Exiting the stage momentarily, the band returned to a rousing reaction as fireworks literally exploded in the night sky following the encore of “Don’t Stop” as their grand finale.
A fantastic performance, Fleetwood Mac still have all the intangibles of what makes a great band. Always about the songs, their stage presence is real, making the music that much more effective. As for The Classic East and The Classic West, one can only hope that this is the beginning of a new tradition with future events to come each summer to follow. There are plenty of bands that could fit the bill as a part of it all, but even if this was a one time event, it created memories that will last a lifetime.