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April 24, 2014

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Take Five:

Chicago

Image

MGM Mirage

Chicago.

If You Go

  • What: Chicago
  • Where: Hollywood Theatre at the MGM Grand
  • When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through March 26 (dark Sunday)
  • Tickets: $75 and $100; (800) 929-1111, MGM Grand

They’re more than 40 years old — more than 400 collectively — and it’s been more than 10 years since their last Top 100 hit.

But classic rock kingpin Chicago has a deep backlog of eternally catchy songs and the kind of loyal following that lets it tour successfully every summer and still pack ’em in for six nights at the 740-seat Hollywood Theatre at the MGM Grand, where it plays Wednesday through March 26. (In 2006 the band played 12 nights over a three-week stretch at the same venue.)

A casual tourist’s guide to Chicago:

1. Branded

Chicago was one of the first rock bands with a corporate brand identity, complete with a consistent logo. Designed by John Fasciano, the elegantly loopy graphic ID is as instantly identifiable as those of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. Chicago still uses the logo, which has appeared on album covers in various forms: molded in chocolate, engraved on paper money, carved into wood, tooled into leather and atop a city high rise.

2. Big numbers

Originally called The Big Thing, then Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago has sold more records — 120 million and counting — than any other geographically named band, including Boston, Kansas, Dirty Vegas, Europe, Asia and America. That includes 21 Top 10 singles (including five No. 1s), five consecutive No. 1 albums, at least 10 greatest-hits compilations, umpteen live recordings and 18 albums with numbers as titles.

3. Chunky to smooth

A geologic history of Chicago would show five distinct periods. With its big band horn section, gritty guitar and earnestly anti-war messages, its prehistoric original late-1960s lineup was actually considered kind of hip and underground — Chicago was invited to open for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin on tours. What the band lost in cool, it more than made up for in success as it evolved into a Top 40 titan, king of the lite-rock power ballad, adult contemporary smoothies, and a still-energetic oldies act second only to the Beach Boys as a steady summer concert draw.

4. Founding fathers

Chicago still has four of its six founding members, including Robert Lamm (keyboards/vocals), Lee Loughnane (trumpet), James Pankow (trombone) and Walter Parazaider (sax/woodwinds). There are eight in the current lineup (including keyboard player/guitarist Bill Champlin and bassist Jason Scheff, who sings the high tenor parts made famous by ex-member Peter Cetera). None of them lives in Chicago anymore. Voted out by the band in 1990, original drummer Danny Seraphine now plays early Chicago classics with a band called California Transit Authority.

5. Prom king

That’s Parazaider playing the flute solo on “Colour My World,” which is still a premier slow-dance choice for proms and weddings — it was even played at Marge and Homer Simpson’s prom in an episode called “The Way We Was.”

“This is going to make me famous,” Parazaider told Pankow, who wrote the song as part of a suite called “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon.” Most people over 30 can hum the flute solo by heart; very few could identify Parazaider (or, truth be told, any Chicago member) in a band photo.

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