Live in Japan

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This double-length set, not the "legendary" four-LP Carnegie Hall concert, is the one to get to hear what Chicago sounded like in their classic early period. In contrast to the Carnegie Hall show, where the band emphasized its precision to the point of deadening any excitement that might have been generated, here Chicago sounds upbeat and lively, bent on giving a good, exciting show and not on capturing a perfect performance. There are moments, as on the crescendo of "Dialogue," where the spirit outstrips the cleanness of the performance, but the group is so tight and forceful that one lets them slide by; at other times, as on "Beginnings," they're so smooth and lithe in their extension of the piece that one just wants to bask in it; and then they switch gears to the rougher, harder "Mississippi Delta City Blues," and make that work too. The whole performance is good, with a steady stream of worthwhile high points. The repertory runs up through "Saturday in the Park" and "Dialogue," and includes the core of their albums up through Chicago V (including the notorious "Song for Richard Nixon and His Friends"). The recording is so close that one hears every bass note and guitar lick, and feels practically in the bells of the trumpets, trombones, and so on, and the mix is vivid and spacious. It shows what an embarrassment of riches Columbia was faced with in the group's output that they never issued this performance in America, favoring the more hyped but far less entertaining and exciting Carnegie Hall show -- it was only Chicago's buying back of their catalog in the mid-'90s that got Live in Japan released in the U.S., more than 20 years after its first appearance in Japan.

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