By Kenny Walker
Pic by Peter Hellström

Ruth Eckerd Hall – Clearwater, Florida, January 1998
Earth Wind & Fire’s sold out show at Cleawater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on January 29,1998 was nothing short of marvelous. Although I miss the spectacle of the larger arena shows of the past, complete with pyrotechnics and disappearing acts and the like, I enjoy the more intimate settings of the smaller venues like REH. One of the things I like so much about an Earth Wind & Fire recording is the intricacy of their arrangements, their careful attention to even the smallest details. The smallest twist of a shaker or striking of a bell which would be all but lost in a large arena is oh so prevalent in a smaller hall, and the band was more than up to the task. The horns were crisp and tight, the rhythm section, under the direction of bassist and consummate showman Verdine White moved through arrangements that though they were very precise left room for the band to stretch out a little.

The show started with a bang as the band kicked into Rock That and proceeded with a medley that included Boogie Wonderland, Let your Feelings Show, September and Saturday Night, then shifted into high gear with Let’s Groove. They, of course could not fail to include chart topping hits such as Can’t Hide Love, Fantasy, Reasons, That’s the Way of the World, Shining Star, Sun Goddess and Devotion. I was also pleased by their inclusion of lesser known hits like Gratitude, Let Me Talk and Jupiter. Also included were Rock It and Revolution from the new CD.

One great moment came from Philip Bailey who upon being interrupted by a well intentioned but ill-informed fan shouting, "Go Maurice" responded, in mid-phrase "It’s Phil", drawing laughter from fellow band members as well as the audience.

Other highlights were the extended instrumental solos by Sheldon Reynolds, Gary Bias and yes, even Verdine White and a knock down drag out percussion feast featuring Sonny Emory, Ralph Johnson, David Romero and David Whitworth.

The evening’s show was also punctuated with dance steps, some choreographed, some impromptu, by the band members, horn section and dancers Dee Dee Weathers and Kyausah Simpson whose skilled movements not only add a new dimension to the overall experience but are also a welcome visual diversion from the otherwise all male cast on stage.

All’n All, it was a great evening.

Kenny Walker
St.Petersburg, FL


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