Earth, Wind & Fire still brings it at Britt

There are plenty of bands that keep touring long after their glory days, long after most of the members have moved on. There are plenty of bands that do their old material with just one original member left on stage. And then there is Earth, Wind & Fire.

The groundbreaking '70s act that fused funk, jazz, soul and pop into a sound unlike any other brought its high-energy show to the Britt hillside Monday to a resounding and well-deserved welcome.

The current iteration of the legendary group features no fewer than three original members: Lead vocalist Philip James Bailey; bassist Verdine White, younger brother of founder Maurice White; and vocalist and percussionist Ralph Johnson.

Maurice White no longer tours with the band but remains plugged in as the group's composer and producer.

One of his contributions to the band's early sound, the Kalimba, or African thumb piano, made an appearance Monday night.

The ensemble still is a family affair, too: Bailey's son, vocalist Philip Doron Bailey, is a member of the current lineup.

Unlike many singers late in their careers, Philip James Bailey has lost none of his power or his sensational range, soaring into the stratosphere on song after song late into the show.

White's fat bass lines anchored the 12-piece band, which featured two guitars, three percussionists on a variety of rhythm instruments in addition to drummer John Levan Paris, Myron Mckinley on keyboards and a rock-solid, three-piece horn section. The Earth, Wind & Fire Horns — Robert Burns Jr. on trumpet, Reginald Young on trombone and Gary Anthony Bias on tenor and alto sax, kept the energy level up even when they weren't playing with spinning, leaping dance moves.

Energy was the word of the night. Dressed all in white — except for Verdine's green fringed pants — the band members constantly were in motion, and so was the crowd. Earth, Wind & Fire is all about the groove, and groove the band members did. Anyone who could sit still during that show probably should have picked another concert to attend.

This was one of those Britt evenings when the traditional reserve of the crowd gets thrown out the window and actual dancing breaks out.

For fans of the band — and the crowd was full of them — there were plenty of memories, from "Shining Star" and Ramsey Lewis' "Sun Goddess" early in the show to the band's signature cover of The Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life."

And no EWF show would be complete without those unforgettable ballads "After the Love is Gone" and "12th of Never."

The band took the stage at 8:30, after an opening set from the Ashland-based band Infusion, featuring vocalist Beau Sheppard and keyboardist Sam Sheppard, Donny Yance on bass, Shawn Freedman on guitar and David Bolen on drums. The group's smooth blend of hip-hop flavored funk set the tone well for the main attraction.

Earth, Wind & Fire delivered a solid hour-and-a-half of uninterrupted exuberance, leaving the crowd pleasantly energized to start its week.

Gary Nelson is the editorial page editor for the Mail Tribune.

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