Back in their 1970s heyday, you would not associate Chicago with the Doobie Brothers — not the music, not the fans.
But Chicago and the Doobie Brothers are touring together again, and again they brought their summer show to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night.
The groups seem to grow closer each season — both played lighter versions of music than their former selves. The Doobies once hit their songs harder and stretched them further, while Chicago once offered longer, improvisational jams and rebellious political talk between songs.
Tuesday night was a light celebration of hits from both of them — both bands have dozens of them, as well as fantastic tunes beyond the hits. Each set was 70 minutes, pretty much identical to previous shows, and both felt rushed, cramming in 30-plus songs total.
The short sets and condensed songs were done partly to make room for the final tunes with both bands on stage together. For many this was a double win, but for just as many this was a loss, hearing old faves performed with 17 men on stage.
The Doobie Brothers started the show with “Jesus Is Just Alright” and “Take Me in Your Arms,” then moved into songs from their most recent record — from 2011 — including the title track, “World Gone Crazy,” which sounded like an amalgamation of all their hits. They played a wonderful version of “South City Midnight Lady,” which has always sounded like someone else’s tune, since it’s sung by Pat Simmons.
Tom Johnston is the brand voice of the band, and he sounded good. Johnston also took most of the guitar solos, standing at the tip of the stage in true ’70s style with eyes shut. But it was Simmons and John McFee who brought the front sections to their feet with their solos.
They closed their set with the pop-gospel “Black Water,” “Long Train Runnin’ ” and “China Grove.” You can’t lose with those songs on your side, especially with Johnston’s voice sounding as good as ever.
Chicago opened with the medley from their second album that included “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World.” They followed with a sadly shortened version of “Dialogue,” the gem from “Chicago V,” and “Just You ’n Me.”
Jason Scheff handled Peter Cetera’s vocal and bass role, sounding close enough on songs like “Searchin’ So Long” and “Saturday in the Park” for the average fan not to notice a difference. Terry Kath’s vocal absence — as well as, of course, his guitar — was felt on his tunes, like “Make Me Smile” and the heavy cover of “I’m a Man” from their first record.
“Beginnings” should be on more Top 50 songs of all time, and Robert Lamm, the writer and original singer, delivered it Tuesday night with all the magic it should have.
The two groups joined together for more hits like “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” “I Just Want to Be Free,” and “Takin’ it to the Streets.”
Together on stage, you have to notice how band members of both groups aged the same — very well — and look much the same, as do their male fans — funny how that works. It’s interesting how both bands keep returning to the area — together and separately — and keep filling up every arena they play; not many bands left from the ’70s can do this.
It was a packed show of good tunes — contrived or not — and it’s likely many of the fans will return next year if they do the same tour.