Earth, Wind and Fire

Earth, Wind and Fire performing before a packed house at Stifel Theatre Sunday night. Photo by Wiley Price/St. Louis American

“Earth, Wind and Fire puts on a show!” That was the general consensus as fans made their exit from the Stifel Theatre Sunday night – and it was correct. The legendary band that bends inspirational, funk, soul, R&B, disco and pop is no stranger to St. Louis. In fact, their visits are so regular that their shows here can be classified as an annual affair. But the caliber of performance they bring with them each time they grace the stage means that despite the frequency of their visits, they will always have a full house of a fully captivated audience that stands in awe of the vocals, musician ship and energy EWF delivers with every show.

The crowd was as blended as the musical styles the band serves from one selection to the next. All ethnic groups, age groups, walks of life. Earth, Wind and Fire is a unifier.

That was the part of the intention of late founder Maurice White and the original members when the band formed 50 years ago according to lead singer Philip Bailey. He pointed this out as he stood overwhelmed by the engagement of the crowd and their encouragement of his marvelous falsetto.

“He wanted to create music that is inspirational – music that brings people together,” Bailey told the crowd. “After all these years this music has become the soundtrack of most of our lives.”

The music runs the gamut as far as musical styles and subject matter. Motivational, spiritual, nature driven, love songs – and songs with the sole intent of making the listener “boogie on down.”

The band got things started with “Sing A Song” and jumped right into “Shining Star” which included a brief blend of the Temptations classic “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

They managed to squeeze two dozen songs into their 90 minute show that was truly an evening with Earth, Wind and Fire as the show title suggested.

Original members Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson are in mint condition. Several younger members have been incorporated into EWF – including Bailey’s son Oshunde – and, as usual, they were given a fair share of the spotlight through vocal and percussion performances in particular.

EWF could actually be classified as a mini-orchestra with its trio of horns, pair of keyboards and rotating percussionists that back bass player Verdine White as he holds the Rhythm section together with riffs that are essential to the band’s pioneering contributions to funk.

He took a few liberties to show off his remarkable skills over the course of the evening, including early on in the show for “Shining Star” and a few other selections.

The rest of the awe was reserved for Bailey’s vocals – particularly his high notes on “Devotion” and “Reasons.” Bailey appeared to be a bit under the weather, and there seemed to be some intention from him in being mindful of singing with that in mind. But it was as if he wouldn’t allow himself not to give the audience what they came to hear and went for – and reached – his trademark high notes anyway.

The show started and ended on a groove, with the ballads and spiritual songs such as “Write A Song” “Keep Your Head To The Sky” and “After The Love Is Gone” reserved for the middle.

They closed out the show with their black family cookout classics “Boogie,” “Let’s Groove” and “September.”

For the encore they opted for the lesser known be equally funky “In The Stone.”

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