Earth Wind & Fire performing at the First Direct Arena Leeds on Wednesday 4th July 2018.

Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

When Earth, Wind & Fire took the charts by storm in the funky 70s they put on some of the most theatrical pop shows ever seen, and after making music for nearly 50 years they were back at the First Direct Arena Leeds last night to show that they can still funk the house down.

One of America’s top selling musical groups of all time, the band began its legendary career in 1969 but when founder member Maurice White dissolved the original line up in 1972 retaining only his brother, bassist Verdine White, and adding Ralph Johnson and Philip Bailey, they became instant household names. With the death of Maurice in 2016, it was left to the three remaining members to command the stage last night and they did not disappoint.

The trio’s timeless talent was augmented by vocalists and percussionists B David Whitworth and Philip Bailey Jr, both of whom provided plenty of energy, and of course the beloved horns were there to fill the Arena with their resplendent sound.

They opened their 90minute set with classics such as Sing A Song, Shining Star and Getaway which had the crowd up on their feet early on. Having retained their signature, choreographed dance moves and the cosmic, sometimes psychedelic and Egyptian imagery that were a part of their branding and album art, it was there for all to see on the big screen set behind them.

With Ralph Johnson having departed the drum kit for a less physically demanding percussionist role, and White with his inimitable stage presence, it was Bailey who proved his vocal prowess has barely withered even at the age of 67, because some of his trademark falsettos were genuinely amazing.

After an energetic start, the band slowed down the pace and settled in to a more relaxed and romantic tone allowing the crowd to catch their breath with the likes of the delightful Kalimba Story, whilst Jupiter demonstrated the bands trademark ability to lay down really funky grooves.

In amongst the merriment there were moments of poignancy. During an emotional rendition of That’s The Way Of The World, archived pictures of Maurice White were projected onto the screen. But the tempo was lifted with a brassy cover of The Beatles’ Got To Get You Into My Life which had the party back on track, and the audience exploded when Devotion was cued up.

After The Love Has Gone was delivered in true EW&F fashion with all the dance moves that come with this band and on Reason’s Bailey’s falsetto hit a register that most vocalists can only dream off. But saving the best for the end, there was Fantasy, the utterly joyous Boogie Wonderland, the 35 year old Let’s Groove and an absolute sing along song, September which finished the main set.

Coming back on for an encore of In The Stone, EW&F were applauded with a well earned cacophony of applause, whistles and yells in appreciation of a funk filled night.