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May 19, 2019

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The timelessly talented Earth, Wind & Fire lights up the Pearl

Earth, Wind & Fire

Earth, Wind & Fire at the Pearl on July 14.

They were out of their seats most of the time, well-warmed by some utterly classic soul and funk, but the people at the Pearl on Friday night seemed like they couldn’t believe what was happening, even though everyone knew the song (“Reasons”) and the singer (66-year-old Philip Bailey). We all knew his rare falsetto could and would hit a register most vocalists only dream of, especially when he’s finishing up this beloved 1975 R&B ballad that impossibly never charted in its day.

But that’s the thing about Earth, Wind & Fire. You know what’s going to happen, what it’s going to sound like and feel like, but it can still catch you by surprise and maybe even make you feel like you’ve never heard anything like it before. That was the case with Bailey’s otherworldly outro to “Reasons,” and really, quite a bit of the band’s show at the Palms’ perfect concert hall on July 14.

Opening with “Shining Star” got the crowd involved immediately, as even those in the upper deck were ready to dance. EW&F never really took a break, blazing through hits like “Getaway,” “Serpentine Fire” and “Sing a Song” along with fan-only favorites like “Kalimba Story” and “Keep Your Head to the Sky,” weaving the songs together into a nonstop groove. The audience exploded when ballad “Devotion” was cued up.

The group lost founder, bandleader and producer Maurice White last February when the music legend passed away at the age of 74 after battling Parkinson’s disease. The current EW&F tour—also featuring Chic and Nile Rodgers, although that group played a separate concert at the Pearl on Sunday—is anchored by original members Bailey, Ralph Johnson and White’s little brother Verdine, a perennially funky figure on bass guitar. The trio’s timeless talent was augmented by vocalists/percussionists B. David Whitworth and Philip Bailey Jr., both of whom provided plenty of energy, and of course the beloved horns (Gary Bias on sax, Bobby Burns Jr. on trumpet and Reggie Young on trombone) were always there to splash the room with sonic color. By the time the band finished its encore of “Fantasy” and “In the Stone,” the audience was possibly satisfied, but definitely still wanted more.

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