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Pop Music Reviews : Chicago and Friends in High-Energy Benefit

November 26, 1987|PAUL GREIN

Chicago's benefit concert Tuesday night at the Universal Amphitheatre--proceeds to Californians Working Together to End Hunger--was a well-designed affair that suggested there's life in the old band yet. The octet's two-hour show included separate solo turns by Michael McDonald, Belinda Carlisle--who has the new No. 1 single--and Cheech Marin.

This was one of Chicago's first local appearances since Jason Scheff replaced Peter Cetera as lead singer. Scheff's clear tenor is similar to Cetera's, and he also gives the group a young, vital front man. The group emphasized energetic oldies like "Alive Again" rather than the well-designed but somewhat bloodless ballads that have been its stock in trade in recent years.

McDonald was highly effective in his half-hour opening set, applying his impassioned vocals to smoldering songs like his old Doobie Brothers' hit "Takin' It to the Streets." But he outdid himself when--in the middle of Chicago's set--he strode on stage to sing Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman," which is ideally suited to his intensely emotional but understated style. McDonald--who also sang Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour"--should forget about movie themes and pop duets and cut an album of '60s soul classics.

Carlisle sang just two songs--her frothy 1986 hit, "Mad About You," and her current smash, the anthemic "Heaven Is a Place on Earth." (She also wobbled through a truncated version of Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood," in which she was way over her head.) After all these years, Carlisle-who formerly fronted the Go-Go's--ought to be able to mount a fuller performance. This was the kind of super-controlled, do-the-hits-and-get-off-quick set you'd expect from a newcomer like Tiffany.

Marin brightened the show with his endearing Bruce Springsteen parody, "Born in East L.A."

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