Since moving to Lockport six years ago, I've come to appreciate some of the local attractions that are anchors in the community. At the top of the list is the Erie Canal with Lockport Locks and Canal Tours, as well as the Lockport Caves, all combining to form a unique aura of historic significance. There's another gem that shines on a regular basis throughout the year - the historic Palace Theatre.
Built in 1925, the venue is now owned and operated by a non-profit organization (since 1999). The Palace serves as a gathering point for local residents, as well as a destination for folks from outside of the area. Live stage performances, new movies and older classics are just some of the events that will pull people into the theatre. We need to have more pride in our communities and support them accordingly. While checking out the Palace website, I noticed that there was a concert coming up with a group called Chicago Authority. While I thought about attending, I didn't move forward with purchasing tickets.
Whether it was fate or a large series of coincidences, some friends asked me and my wife Sandy to join them to take in the Dec. 16 concert - an event benefitting the Hickory Club of Lockport and the Palace. As we hunkered down into our seats, the opening number of "Let it Snow" off the Chicago XXV Christmas Album set the tone for an incredible night of music. I really didn't know what I was in for and it didn't take long for me to find out. They jumped into a song off Chicago V called Dialogue and they were off and running.
Lead man Jack Prybylski then welcomed everyone to the evening's musical tribute to one of the greatest bands in the world and their third tune was off the original band's first album Chicago Transit Authority from 1969 - the original name of the group when they first started. They pounded out the first song on the first side, "Introduction," and that was all it took for me - I was hooked. It was a deep cut that really accentuated the band's unique blend of rock and roll with jazz fusion. Horn sections became popular in the early 70's with bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chase and the Tower of Power. Chicago became the model of consistency, creativity and longevity. To date, they have recorded 36 albums.
I've been a Chicago fan (the name the band morphed into by its second album at the request of the city of the same name) since day one of my romance with music. I can tell you the names of all seven of the band's original members. The CTA and Chicago II vinyl albums were played so much that I needed to replace them. I'm here to tell you that these guys riding the Chicago Authority train are good!
I mentioned coincidences and there were a few more that jumped out. One was the fact that on this very night of the Chicago Authority concert, the original Chicago band was hoping to achieve something that should have happened a long, long time ago - receive its just due in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They had already secured the popular vote from the fans and now it was up to the hall itself. Our fingers were crossed.
Chicago Authority continued its mastery of such classics as "Beginnings" and "Questions 67 and 68" off the CTA album, but they also included more obscure tunes such as "South California Purples" off CTA and "Movin' In" off Chicago II. They added in some of the band's newer songs, too, and it was evident it didn't matter where the song came from in the original group's timeline, these cover guys were up to the task - instrumentally and vocally.
Vocals for the Chicago Authority were spread around with Ryan Gentner, drummer Keith Spurlock and percussionist Ken Thomasula (playing his first concert with the band) taking on a brunt of the workload. Background vocals were excellent, too. It was an hour and 45 minutes into the performance when I looked up at the clock and the band was taking a break. "Does anybody really know what time it is?" They promised to be back in 15 minutes and they were!
After another little Christmas ditty, they started out slow with "Brand New Love Affair (Parts 1 and 2)" before they ripped into the popular "Make Me Smile" - including the songs that followed on the album such as "Color My World" and "To Be Free/Now More Than Ever." It did as was it was designed to ... make me smile... goose bumps and all!
Upon returning, the band went back and forth between melodic harmonies with chart-topping ballads like "If You Leave Me Now" and "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" to rockin' staples like "I'm a Man," a song originally written by Stevie Winwood when he was with The Spencer Davis Group in 1967. CTA took the song to a different level and Chicago Authority captured that energy on the stage that night in the Palace. As the evening started to wind down, the band seemed to become more pumped. They were definitely having fun up there and their infectious talents made the crowd a part of the experience. It was only fitting when they ended the night on time - quite literally - when they exploded with 25 or 6 to 4.
If you like the band Chicago, these guys are a must-see. If you appreciate good music, ditto. If you are looking to expand your musical horizons, check them out. The horn section of Prybylaski, Jim Mauck and Kacy Dolan are tight; Rick Johnston does a great impersonation of the late, great Terry Kath at guitar; Tom Scime was super on the keyboards; and Dave Herr kept pace on bass to perfection. Throw in Thomasula, Gentner and Spurlock and you have the greatest Chicago tribute band in the world ... or so John Lombardi of Lockport told us when he introduced them. I do not doubt his word! And remember, this all started with a visit to the historic Palace Theatre. Support these amazing attractions - you just might be surprised.
By the way, the next morning driving into work, I was listening to local radio station WLVL out of Lockport. That final coincidence was that Chicago finally was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - after more than 40 years of making music and impacting people's lives. Thanks to Chicago Authority for making those memories all the more special.