Last night was our third time seeing Earth, Wind & Fire live. And it was the best yet. The new live video effects were great, the sound was spot-on and everyone was on fire, but what made it was a Philip Bailey like I haven't quite seen or heard before.
Bailey has always sung like an angel, but last night he sang more like a bird newly released from a cage. I wonder if, maybe, that cage was witnessing Maurice White's suffering and decline over the last decades. Perhaps Maurice White's sad, but merciful passing some six months ago has set Bailey free. It certainly sounded like it.
He performed like a man who had had a great sorrow lifted from his heart; like a man with a renewed inner peace, like a man who knew his friend and mentor was no longer suffering and was now at peace. You could see it in his eyes, his spontaneous smiles and in his demeanor. But most of all it was apparent in his vocal performance.
The audience, young and old, were left in raptures as he lifted the roof off of the arena and sent our spirits soaring with his falsetto climax to Reasons. It was a special moment for everyone that night, but having heard him do this twice before, I felt this was something more. This seemed to be coming from a place within Bailey that he hadn't been able to tap into whilst Maurice White was suffering.
Perhaps something else accounts for the difference, but there's no doubt in my mind there was one. Whatever the reason, the effect was magnificent. Transcendent. In all honesty, it brought a lump to my throat. As did the vintage photos of Maurice White that appeared on the huge on-stage screen throughout the show.
Maurice White is no longer with us and, mercifully, no longer suffering. But he lives on through the brilliant performances of his brother Verdine, Ralph Johnson and Philip Bailey. And, in spirit, he is still leading this extraordinary brotherhood of musicians. Through the complexity of his sophisticated, multi-layered compositions and through Philip Bailey's extraordinary singing voice, Earth Wind & Fire produce a simple effect: joy. And no other live act does it better.