By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

August 13, 2001

The hits just kept on comin' Saturday night at Riverport Amphitheatre, where Chicago and the Doobie Brothers, stalwarts of Classic Rock radio, took a full crowd of appreciative fans back to the '70s and '80s.

The show ran nearly four hours long to do justice to an opening act with the stature of the Doobies. It provided a dazzling display of musicianship from the members of both groups.

What they did with those chops, however, was largely a matter of taste.

The ongoing concern that is Chicago (the name's a trademark) started recording as Chicago Transit Authority in 1969 and boasts four original members among its eight players. Dressed mainly in black, they ricocheted between the styles that have made them one of the most successful bands in the world.

But the success of their 25-song, 1 hour and 45 minute set came down to how you feel about the band's split personality.

Their driving, jazz-influenced rockers, fueled by the horn section of Walter Parazaider, Lee Loughnane and St. Louis-born Jimmy Pankow, got the crowd to its feet, from the opening "Dialogue" through "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" to "I'm a Man" and the closer "25 or 6 to 4."

But these were shuffled in with the bigger hits: the goopy ballads that have been first-dance selections at many a wedding, from "Colour My World" through "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long" to "Just You n' Me."

Mixed in were the Latin-tinged "Mongonucleosis," a midpoint acoustic set that featured the blues and then veered toward lounge music, and - of course - a five-minute drum solo. But Tris Imboden elevated that '70s staple above its usual self-indulgence and made it his second highlight of the night, after an earlier stellar turn on harmonica.

Chicago boasts three distinctive vocalists in Robert Lamm, Bill Champlin and Jason Scheff, and the guitar of new kid Keith Howland. But it's that energy generator of a horn section that makes Chicago distinctive, and it's almost worth the ticket price to watch Pankow march about the stage, twirling his trombone like a baton.

The Doobie Brothers, touring behind the new CD "Sibling Rivalry," lost their "other self" with the long-ago departure of Michael McDonald - although Patrick Simmons sounded eerily like his old bandmate on "Takin' It to the Streets."

The Doobie formula of three lead guitars (Simmons, Tom Johnston and John McPhee) and dollops of country and funk hasn't changed much.

And while they succumb to their own goopy ballads on the new CD, from which they played several tunes, the concert was mainly a race through the uptempo hit catalog, from the opener "Rockin' Down the Highway" through "China Road," "Jesus is Just Alright" and "Take Me in Your Arms," with stops along the way for "Black Water" and a fun cover of "Little Bitty Pretty One."