Chicago

Chicago: The Box [Bonus DVD]

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Beginning with its double-LP debut in 1969, Chicago has always done things in a big way, so it's no surprise that the band's career-spanning box set (Group Portrait, an earlier box, covered only their first decade) is lengthy. There are five CDs, containing 94 tracks clocking in at more than six and a half hours, plus a DVD running another 40 minutes. In that time, Chicago's story is told, from the band's ambitious, eclectic beginnings through its two extended hitmaking periods and on into still popular work 30 years on. All but one of the band's 48 Billboard Hot 100 hits, 1969-1991, are included, the sole exception being the 1986 re-recording of the 1970 hit "25 or 6 to 4," which, of course, is featured in its original version. Also included are extended suites from the early albums, key LP tracks, songs from soundtrack and charity albums, and three songs previously unreleased in the U.S. that were intended for an album Chicago's then-record label rejected in the 1990s. As the two sets of liner notes suggest, there are really two main phases to the Chicago saga. The first, from the group's beginnings up to 1980, takes the group to a peak of popular success with five consecutive number one albums, followed by a decline that includes business travails and the accidental death of singer/guitarist Terry Kath. The second, from the early '80s through the end of that decade, finds the band reborn largely as a vehicle for adult contemporary power ballads sung by bassist Peter Cetera and his sound-alike successor, Jason Scheff. Actually, there is also a third act to the story, finally assembled here in the second half of the fifth disc, during which the band regains its early promise in isolated recordings from the unreleased album (particularly Scheff's tribute to his father, bassist Jerry Scheff, "Bigger Than Elvis") and tracks used on hits compilations such as "Here in My Heart" (which topped the AC charts in 1997). It is, thus, a story with a happy ending. And it is that story Chicago is interested in telling here. This is not a box set full of alternate takes and unreleased material; it is an attempt to chronicle all the significant recordings in one package, and at that it succeeds. The DVD material consists of a 24-and-a-half-minute film of Chicago performing at the Arie Crown Theater in the band's hometown in November 1972 and a 16-and-a-half-minute promotional film concerning the 1979 album Chicago 13, which was one of the group's weaker efforts. Of the two, the first is more impressive, particularly because of an early performance of the jazz fusion tune "Devil's Sweet," while the latter is slight but amusing.

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