EWF founding members still in the band: Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson, Verdine White
We saw the band at the Chicago Theater last night. It was a delightful, nostalgic, and energetic almost two-hour set that the band turned in, easily the most enjoyable concert we heard all summer (except of course hearing TOP in Fort Wayne in May). Philip Bailey’s voice is a bit rougher, but he still has the range when he needs it and has the power up there as well. B. David Whitworth, who has been with the band as vocalist and percussionist since the mid-1990s, was almost as energetic as 57-year-old Verdine White, who is still the most animated bass player I’ve ever seen. He’s an entire entertainment by himself!
The sound system was, of course, still not up to my expectations. Thankfully the sound engineers didn’t crank everything up until it was deafening, and that was much appreciated. The band’s arrangements are complex, and nobody wants to miss any of what they perform, instrumentally and vocally. The mix was a problem. I think the main system was actually off at the beginning of the show – I know we were hearing the horns without amplification, for certain, and maybe only the stage monitors were on. There continued to be balance issues with the vocalists against the instruments throughout the night. The audience, which seemed to be made up at least 50 per cent by middle-aged white women, all knew the tunes and sang along with everything. This was a help to Philip Bailey, who is often now called upon to sing what were originally his vocal lines and Maurice White’s from the recording, switching back and forth into and out of the head voice – not an easy task. (Dang it, I sang along with most of the tunes myself – it’s hard not to!)
An interesting side note: I always assumed Verdine was Maurice White’s son. Maurice is credited with founding EWF; he no longer tours with the band because of Parkinson’s Disease. It turns out Verdine is his younger brother, and was only 19 when he started playing in the band.
Anyway, it was a very positive, enjoyable night, with a band that produces some of the most uplifting vibes out there, and an audience that adored them and helped raise the spirits of everyone even higher. Bravo, gentlemen!