Chicago, the town, is known as the second city. Chicago, the venerable band that has been around since the flower power era, is the second-most popular rock band in American history, according to Billboard chart statistics.
The numbers back up its surprising rank. Chicago’s album, with over 40 million sold, singles sales and touring numbers place them second only to the Beach Boys. “Saturday in the Park,” “25 or 6 to 4” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” are just a few examples of Chicago’s many timeless classics.
“We worked so hard to craft songs that stand up to the test of time,” keyboardist-vocalist Robert Lamm said while calling from Los Angeles. “It’s always been about the musicianship for this band.”
Chicago, which formed in 1967, was like no other act at the time, melding classical, rock, pop, jazz and R&B.
“We played what we loved then and we play what we love now,” said Lamm, a founding member of the group. “We haven’t changed when it comes to performance.”
Chicago, which will play Wednesday at the First Interstate Center for the Arts, continues to execute on stage like it did during its salad days. Chicago delivers shows in excess of two hours while performing nearly 30-songs a night.
“We’ve always considered ourselves a performance band,” Lamm said. “We love to play. We’re not one of those bands that simply phones it in.
“If anyone in our group suggested we do that, it would turn into a serious gang fight. It’s a labor of love and it has to be since our music isn’t easy to play even if you have played it a thousand times.”
Chicago is out behind “Born for this Moment,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s first album since 2014’s “Now Chicago: XXVI.” There’s a mix of ballads – Chicago impresses with “Make a Man Out of Me” – and funk workouts, like “Crazy Idea,” which sounds like vintage Chicago.
“I’m still inspired to write new material,” Lamm said. “The creativity hasn’t stopped for us.”
Lamm and fellow original members, trumpet player Lee Loughnane and trombonist James Pankow, flank new vocalist Neil Donell, who joined the band in 2018.
“Neil has been fantastic,” Lamm said. “He’s been just what we needed.”
Lamm has done whatever is necessary to keep Chicago together.
“It’s not always easy,” Lamm said. “It’s been tough to let some people go. If it’s not working you move on. Some people have been difficult to move on from.”
The most difficult personnel move was replacing guitarist Terry Kath, who accidentally shot himself to death in 1978.
“That was a hard lesson,” Lamm said. “It was devastating.”
Chicago’s sound couldn’t help but morph after the loss of such a key player.
“It’s true that we would have been a different band if Terry had not passed away,” Lamm said. “Who knows what would we sound like now if Terry was still with us? Who knows if we would be together?
“There are all of these what-ifs that will never be answered.”
Chicago is cemented in rock history. The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. The band’s original members, Lamm, Loughnane, Pankow, Kath, vocalist-bassist Peter Cetera, drummer Danny Seraphine and saxophonist Walter Parazaider were enshrined.
“It was a wonderful night,” Lamm said. “I was very nervous. Looking out at your peers, you just don’t want to blow it. You want to thank the people that supported your band and those who kept it together.”
Lamm also wanted to perform at the event but Cetera, who left Chicago for a successful solo career in 1985, refused to take the stage with his former mates.
“Peter has a beautiful voice and is a great singer but he’s a stubborn guy,” Lamm said. “No amount of rationalizing to him why he should perform, if not for himself but for the fans and the band, worked.
“It’s a shame since the fans would have been thrilled to see him sing with us for a few songs but it wasn’t to be.”
Chicago is way past Cetera. The band continues to craft songs, which isn’t surprising since Lamm, Cetera and Pankow were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017.
“Writers just keep writing,” Lamm said. “I wrote more songs during the first two months of the pandemic than ever. We were file-sharing and putting parts together.
“That’s how we constructed the new album. We made the best use of that time. We could have just sat around but that’s not what we do in this band.”
Lamm and his bandmates have accomplished so much during their storied career.
The Grammy-winning band has 18 platinum albums and 20 top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. What is left for Chicago to achieve?
“I would like to do a score for a good film,” Lamm said. “That would be fun. That would be different. Films take a lot of time and effort but that would be a great challenge.
“Aside from that, I still enjoy going out and playing more shows and playing places like Spokane. We haven’t been back there since before the pandemic. I love the coffee joints there. Before the show I’ll be walking the streets, stopping in shops and I’ll have someone grind a pound of coffee for me and then I’ll focus on the show and we’ll do our best to make something memorable for the fans that night.”