Earth Wind & Fire w/ the Explorers Club
North Charleston Coliseum
The City of North Charleston celebrated a 40th anniversary earlier this month with a handful of special events and formal get-togethers, but they blew it out with style on Tuesday night at the Coliseum. Legendary funk/pop ensemble Earth Wind & Fire nearly tore the roof off the place with an energetic, brassy show in front of a nearly sold-out room of fans, young and old.
It was really cool to see a local act on the bill as the concert's opener, too. Playing the biggest venue they've ever played in town, the Explorers Club hit the stage around 7:45 p.m. backed with a three-piece horn/tambourine section. Unfortunately, their set was plagued by technical difficulties (mainly with guitar amps and the front-of-house mix) and more than a few lulls.
As a mop-topped '60s-styled guitar pop ensemble opening for a veteran funk band, the bill seemed a little kooky pairing. Fortunately, singer/guitarists Jason Brewer and David Ellis led their set into a few cool groove. The hand-clappy, harmony-laden "Run Run Run" and "Anticipatin'," from the band's new album Grand Hotel, earned polite applause, as did a few songs from their 2008 debut album Freedom Wind. One of the high points of the set was an upbeat, tom-tom-driven rendition of "I've Been Waiting" (from Grand Hotel). Some of the more awkward moments involved Brewer trying to get his amps to work. Ellis ended up loaning Brewer his Fender Strat at one point. They got through the set, but they didn't warm up the crowd very effectively. Dead-on renditions of soft-rockin' vintage pop hits like the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" and Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" didn't exactly whip Earth Wind & Fire's audience into a frenzy.
After a lengthy intermission, Earth Wind & Fire and the newly formed North Charleston Pops orchestra hit the stage with a dazzling faux neon light show flashing to the opening beats of the disco hit "Boogie Wonderland." Most of the old-school fans in the crowd jumped up and started dancing as vocalist Philip Bailey, percussionist Ralph Johnson, bassist Verdine White — the three remaining founding members — strutted from one side the stage to another. The shows' opening featured back-to-back hits, from "Boogie Wonderland" into "Sing a Song" and "Shining Star." The entire 11-piece band looked genuinely excited to be there, smiling, high-steppin', and dancing in synch with each other during breaks and choruses. Luckily the mix was nicely balanced, too.
White's sparkly attire stood out and his satin jumpsuit matched his shiny four-string bass. Bailey and Johnson looked a little more casual. All three swapped impressive solos and shared harmonies through the dance numbers, smooth jazz jams, and ballads of the show. Bailey even showed off his chops on the congas and a kalimba at one point.
The rhythm section was mighty tight, providing solid grooves underneath Bailey's soaring falsetto. The dynamic horn section pushed things to great heights as well. Their audience sang along and boogied through the show, from the ballads "That's the Way of the World" and "After the Love is Gone" to the rousing conclusion of "September."