Philip Bailey absolutely stunned me at MGM National Harbor on Saturday, when gave the full range of his voice to a sold-out crowd in The Theater.
In the latter third of the show, Philip sang the smooth ballad “Reasons” from Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1975 album That’s the Way of the World. From that, he segued directly into a “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” made famous by Philadelphia soul group The Stylistics.
You can read that and understand that he sang those two songs. But you have to hear it to really and truly comprehend. When Philip sings that tribute song, he unfurls his majestic voice to hit high notes in falsetto then immediately hits low notes with his baritone. If I weren’t seeing it happen with my own eyes, I would have sworn I was listening to two entirely different people.
I am not alone in being gobsmacked. The entire audience catches its breath as one as Philip takes the song through its final crescendo and then the house breaks out into a standing ovation.
“That’s why we call him the voice!” exclaims Ralph Johnson, the second of three original members of Earth, Wind & Fire still active with band.
Ralph is everywhere himself, a reassuring professional presence on stage. Usually, he stands stage right, working the drums set aside there for him. But often, he come to the middle of the stage to stand in formation with his bandmates or to provide backing vocals. Ralph sometimes provides lead vocals, such as on Earth, Wind & Fire’s cover of “Got to Get You in My Life,” by The Beatles.
The third original member of Earth, Wind & Fire on hand of course is the incomparable Verdine White. Verdine is a thunderclap of unstoppable funk on the bass, bursting across the stage from the very opening numbers. He dances up a storm for “Boogie Wonderland,” which also gets the audience jumping in very short order.
Verdine, brother of the late Maurice White, founded Earth, Wind & Fire with Maurice back in 1970. Watching him today, 47 years later, you will believe that music will keep you young as Verdine is still thumping along to his bass and tossing his hair back with the brightest smile ever.
Earth, Wind & Fire keep blasting out the hits all evening, wowing their audience with memorable song after song. The band soon played “Shining Star,” their remarkably uplifting #1 hit from that 1975 sixth album, and the crowd goes wild. Later, Philip calms them down with “Can’t Hide Love” from Gratitude of the same year. He leads the audience through a soaring and pleasing round of “aaaahs” throughout the chorus.
David Whitworth, who has been contributing vocals and drums to Earth, Wind & Fire since 1996, takes several turns to shine during the performance Saturday, charming the crowd with “Love’s Holiday” from 1977’s All ‘n All.
Guitarists Morris O’Connor (lead) and Serg Dimitrijevic (rhythm) proved to be twin dynamos of electric power throughout the entire show, clearly having the time of their lives to be sharing the stage with their legendary bandmates. (Both men are *relatively* new members of the Earth, Wind & Fire family.) They dazzled throughout the show, playing off each other constantly, and they were particularly effective during “(Hearts Afire) That’s the Way of the World.” (Note to self: Go buy the album That’s the Way of the World, ASAP.)
When not delivering those amazing vocals, Philip often retreated to stage left, where he plays percussion with his son, Philip Bailey Jr. Philip Jr. is a welcome presence on stage, often contributing lead or backing vocal. He truly rose to the occasion for the fantastic “Let’s Groove,” the electronic masterpiece Earth, Wind & Fire released in 1981 to prove they were still a musical force to be reckoned with in the post-disco era. Stationed at the rear of the stage on synths and keys, Myron McKinley also helped put the groove into “Let’s Groove,” delivering its distinctive synthline to an enthusiastic audience that was ready to dance.
You’ll want to make an appointment to dance the night away yourself as Earth, Wind & Fire will continue this tour of greatest hits in 2017. On March 9, Earth, Wind & Fire continue their tour in Florida, and then spend most of the following month on the road to wrap a US tour in North Charleston, South Carolina, on April 2. Make it a priority to catch this show. It will certainly be a contender for the best show you’ll see all year, if not all decade!
A total of 12 men are contributing to the soul, funk, and disco of Earth, Wind & Fire these days. Although I don’t give them all a shout-out here, and I’m sure I missed a few of them in pictures, each musician is worthy of your full attention. It’s a spectacular show, and a tremendous team effort by all.
Here are some more pictures of Earth, Wind & Fire performing at MGM National Harbor on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017.