|Earth Wind & Fire - That's the Way of the World: Alive in '75|
|Music Disc Reviews SACD|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Tuesday, 10 September 2002|
In front of a recording engineer over the age of 40, there are two bands that you never want to talk shit about: Toto and Earth Wind and Fire. Both bands literally walk on water for nearly every recording engineer I have ever met and especially my recording professors in music school.
And for good reason – Earth Wind and Fire is one of the tightest bands to ever step onto a concert stage with vocal harmonies that make the Beach Boys sound like they are out of tune and funk that could get George Clinton thinking about what happens if he got doobie in HIS funk.
Earth Wind and Fire Alive in ’75 is a live, surround sound recording mixed especially for SACD. It is not a hybrid disc, so it will only play on dedicated SACD players and uses Sony’s excellent DSD audio system for mastering. Earth Wind and Fire were definitely alive in 1975 in terms of musical popularity, mainly because of their multi-layered vocal harmonies, swinging pseudo pre-disco beats and memorable songwriting that had captured the attention of a country that, at the time, was trying to get over the Watergate scandal.
Unlike the recently reviewed 1972 Yes Fragile album (on DVD-Audio), which featured both stellar solo and group performances in another genre, Earth Wind and Fire plays a team game. Their sound at a live show is about establishing a groove and, as Maurice White says, “go(es) for the middle C in the sky.” They accomplish this on Live in ’75 from the very start of this collection of performances. After a brief overture, the fans appear in the rear speakers and a twangy guitar chop develops until it merges with the familiar riff of “Shining Star.” Before the first verse, a prodigious horn section gleams across the front of the soundstage and you know you are going to be in for a treat.
Because this is a live show there isn’t too much trickery mixed into the rear channels which traditionalists and surround enthusiasts will rejoice over. There are little bits of guitar and reverberance that make it back to the rears along with appropriate fan noise and applause. The SACD has a wide feel, which allows the listener to hear more of the band in detail than you might be accustomed to with a stereo CD. The bass is especially good compared to other SACDs I have heard recently, including the 1984 Michael Jackson Thriller studio recording.
Live in ’75 is a great first SACD because it, unlike the majority of SACDs to date, is a surround title, with a highly polished live performance that never keeps you waiting too long for a hit song. While Live in ’75 marks a concert that predates some of Earth Wind and Fire’s biggest hits, they keep the party moving with tunes like “Happy Feelin’” and “Sun Goddess.” On “Sun Goddess,” the band establishes some sort of Guinness World Record for smoothness with a vocal jam that features a guest appearance by Ramsey Lewis.
Earth Wind and Fire brings the tempo down on the track “Reasons,” a very familiar song. The accompaniment sounds a bit stripped-down vs. the ultra-lush studio sound of the band, yet the horns and funky bass line make up a lot of ground for the live sound. No one in the audience (or listening to SACD at my place) was complaining. To wrap it all up, the band jammed their mega-hit “That’s The Way of the World,” leaving the crowd with a feel-good sensation and some audience participation before they headed for the exits that night.
Overall, this SACD does a good job of illustrating much of what the SACD format can do. It brings a fantastic live performance from years past directly to your living room in ways a stereo CD simply cannot do. There is a middle-aged caddy at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades who is known as much for his ability to correctly read a 30-foot put that actually breaks up hill as he is for telling stories about his social prime when walking between shots. One day, when climbing the hill of the 440-yard eighteenth hole, the caddy told our group all about what it was like to see Earth Wind and Fire at The Forum in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. 20 years later, he can tell you the songs they played and how they played them. He can tell you what he wore (fish-tank platform shoes and a gold medallion), what he drove and all of the ladies he took home with him after the show (that might be an embellished view of history, but I am not sure). After listening to Earth Wind and Fire Live in ’75 on SACD, I finally have a much clearer idea of what he was talking about and I am truly thankful for that.