A silent auditorium with row upon row of empty seats. Microphones standing lone and slender with singers. Drums sitting forlornly undrummed. Casinos with out beeps or clangs. Exterior, the primary strip in Las Vegas – usually stressed and seething with life – is abandoned.
In a movie about musicians and music, it’s this second of quietness that conveys the enormity of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. The final band on stage in Las Vegas, or maybe wherever, was the rock’n’roll group Chicago, abruptly silenced after half a century through which they by no means stopped touring and by no means stopped recording.
“We discovered the night time earlier than that we had been the one band nonetheless taking part in in just about the world, I believe,” founding member Lee Loughnane, 75, recollects by way of Zoom from Sedona, Arizona, in an interview to advertise the documentary The Final Band on Stage. “There have been no masks but. The fact of it really being an issue had probably not hit dwelling.”
Few teams on the earth can match Chicago for longevity or file gross sales. The identify is not any accident. As Peter Curtis Pardini’s movie (narrated by Joe Mantegna) recollects, they fashioned in 1967, rising out of a number of bands from the Chicago space, went by way of a number of identify modifications, produced 38 albums, offered greater than 100m information and gained a spot within the Rock & Roll Corridor of Fame.
For his half, Loughnane fell in love with music because of a trumpet within the attic that belonged to his father, a army band chief within the second world conflict. “I began taking part in the trumpet at 11 after which I by no means regarded again.
“Someday I introduced to my mother and father that I needed to play music for a dwelling and my dad tried to speak me out of it as a result of ‘there’s no there’s no future in it, it’s solely going to final a short while and it’ll be over quickly, get an actual job’, that type of stuff. Because it seems, by the point they [my parents] each handed, they realised that I used to be doing fairly nicely. I used to be one of many few, one of many 1% that truly performs music for a dwelling for all times.”
When Loughnane, Walter Parazaider and 4 others started taking part in music collectively, together with a particular horns part, the group that might grow to be Chicago flickered into life. “We simply received collectively and did a rehearsal at Walt’s basement and we by no means stopped taking part in collectively once more.
“It sounded nice and we loved it. We preferred what it seemed like and each gig that we had from that point on – we began reserving membership dates – and we simply discovered sufficient songs to get by way of the night time as a result of we had been taking part in like six hours an evening: 45 on, 15 off.”
Early on, they toured with guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Loughnane recollects: “Jimi was very quiet. I don’t keep in mind him doing a whole lot of speaking however I used to be very shy myself, so he and I might in all probability sit in a room and simply smoke a joint. We’d sit and watch TV, have a cheeseburger after we’d get excessive.”
Band members got here and went for varied causes however three of the originals – half the entire – are nonetheless there at the moment: Robert Lamm, James Pankow and Loughnane. They had been ceaselessly touring, performing and recording. Till the pandemic.
Artists all around the world had been hit arduous as they withdrew to isolation. Late-night TV hosts reminiscent of Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah instructed jokes into the void of their home or house. However few felt the eeriness lockdown as keenly as a band whose total working lives has been animated by stay efficiency.
After the gig on the Venetian in Las Vegas, Loughnane and his bandmates had been imagined to journey the subsequent day to California for his or her subsequent gigs however then, he remembers, “the world shut down”. Chicago assumed that life could be suspended for 2 weeks; that became a month; then that became two months, and so forth.
The unique members had been compelled to droop their peripatetic existence and do one thing they’ve by no means executed earlier than of their lives – keep at dwelling for greater than three months. Loughnane, who has been divorced “a number of instances”, spent the time constructing a recording studio close to his second dwelling in Sedona.
“I used to be nonetheless getting up and practising daily like I usually work on the highway and on the similar timeI was constructing a studio about 10 minutes from my home right here,” he says. “So I used to be a lot busy.
“We simply performed it month by month, day-to-day, and we’re making an attempt to determine what to do in a house setting as a result of we couldn’t go wherever else. So we recorded songs and every particular person band member recorded their little piece of their homes and we in all probability did 9 or 10 songs, one thing like that.
“After which Peter reduce the entire little items collectively and the Zoom movies had been born, wanting like all of us had been taking part in on the similar time which is just about not possible as a result of solely certainly one of us can speak at a time on the Zoom assembly.”
Lastly, the band returned to the stage after 15 months away with an outside live performance in Lincoln, Nebraska. Loughnane says: “We really received there two days early simply to rehearse and get our chops again collectively as a result of it was much like an injured sports activities athlete coming again to his sport and discovering out that the sport is somewhat a bit quicker than you might be at this second.
“So that you’ve started working your manner again in control, because it had been. However seeing the viewers are available in, that previous adrenaline rush got here again once more. You may see how excited they had been to be with one another and able to hearken to a stay efficiency. They had been ecstatic.”
It was June 2021 and there have been nonetheless variants and waves to come back. However Loughnane provides: “It’s gotten to the purpose the place it’s grow to be incrementally extra comfy to be with one another. That’s what each viewers feels now as a result of there are fewer and fewer masks and Omicron will not be fairly as treacherous because the others – though for some individuals it’s.”
The comeback meant that Chicago preserved their file of performing yearly for 55 years. They’re nonetheless doing 100 exhibits a yr. Why? “We get pleasure from what we do. Once we get on stage, we wish to get it proper each time. We wish to be as excellent as we could be and we wish to generate to the viewers hopefully what they wish to hear. And it seems that we’re fairly good at it and so they wish to hold coming again and listening to it once more.”
Pardini, 35, who beforehand directed the award-winning Now Extra Than Ever: The Historical past of Chicago, provides: “You take a look at the ten,000-hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell talks about; with Chicago we’ve got 10m hours. Even the Rolling Stones have taken a number of years off at a time and so they sound nice. However I believe for a band like Chicago, it’d be type of tough to all of a sudden be horrible whenever you always apply that a lot and play that a lot.
“Each single present, regardless of the place you might be on the earth or the nation or no matter, persons are reacting the identical option to each music, whether or not they converse English or German. It’s loopy. It’s inspiring and it’s simply arduous work and never stopping.”
Not even Covid was capable of cease Chicago for lengthy. Loughnane displays: “I believe everyone had some type of it at one level or one other however it by no means stopped us from working. It’s robust to get us to not present up on stage. I imply, that is all we do. I can in all probability drive a automobile fairly nicely, so I may do Uber however, apart from that, that is my life.”