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Earth, Wind and Fire 1981 concert

Earth, Wind and Fire 1981 concert

Dec. 21, 1981: Maurice White, center, leads Earth, Wind & Fire in a Forum show that was marred by special effects overload.

Paul Grein reported in the Dec. 23, 1981 Los Angeles Times:

The main problem with big arena shows isn’t muddy sound or impaired sightlines. It’s that superstar groups wind up competing with each other to see who can put on the most elaborate show. It’s the new battle of the bands–and sometimes the audience loses.

When Earth, Wind & Fire opened a four-night stand Monday at the Inglewood Forum, we were bombarded by numerous fog, firebomb and strobe-light effects, plus extended drum, keyboard and bass solos that conveyed the uncomfortable impression that we were lost in a 1968 time warp. It just goes to prove that superstar R&B shows can include just as many tired cliches as superstar rock shows.

Those occasional moments of indulgent excess were most jarring because they seemed to be tacked on, without much relationship to the show’s strengths: lilting melodic hooks, tight ensemble playing and the thrilling falsetto of the band’s secret weapon, vocalist/percussionist Philip Bailey. When the band did focus on those strengths, it again proved it is one of the premier acts of all of pop.

Earth, Wind & Fire is a 10-man group, backed by a four-man horn section, that specializes in a propulsive mix of R&B, pop, jazz and rock rhythms. When all 14 players are firing away at once, as on the R&B party hit “Getaway,” they produce a cluttered, blaring drone that’s the opposite from the spare, minimalist approach of groups like Chic.

But Earth, Wind & Fire is also capable of classy material, most notably 1975’s “Reasons,” which contrasts the worldly, sophisticated mood set by Don Myrick’s sax work with the exquisite tenderness of Bailey’s vocal. Though never released as a single, “Reasons” stands as one of the most sublime tunes in recent pop history ….

Earth, Wind & Fire performed all but one of its biggest hits, leaving out its intriguing 1978 R&B adaptation of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life.” The band also included the four best songs from its current LP, “Raise!” its eighth album in a row to reach the national top 10. This achievement has lately allowed the group to wrestle back from the Commodores the mantle of America’s top R&B band.

From the constant cheering Monday, it’s evident that the audience was satisfied. If, however, the group can more tightly edit its staging, it will be more satisfying ….

The photo above by staff photographer Tony Barnard accompanied Grein’s article in Dec. 23, 1981, editions of the Los Angeles Times.

Dec. 21, 1981: Earth, Wind & Fire perform at the Inglewood Forum. Credit: Tony Barnard/Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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