My Life in Words

Peter Cetera graces Atlantic City with his Presence

October 21 , 2006

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I am, to say the least, a big fan of Peter Cetera. From his earlier days as bassist and lead singer for Chicago to his most recent original album release back in 2001, I like pretty much all of it. Since he split with Chicago in 1986, however, public performance has not been where Cetera has chosen to focus himself (excessive touring was rumored to be one of the biggest grievances he held with the band). Thus, despite having seen several Chicago performances, I had yet to see a show by Peter Cetera, much to my disappointment.

In the last few years, however, Cetera has begun to appear a couple times a year in different cities, backed by an orchestra of local origination at each venue. Various recordings of some of these events are available, including a CD of his appearance in Salt Lake City, Utah and a DVD of a performance for the reincarnated "Sound Stage" series. I liked most of what I heard from these and, as encouraging as it was to a fan like me that there were at least occasional opportunities to see (or at the very least, hear) him perform, my hopes were still frustrated by a lack of appearances close enough to my particular location. That all came to an end when I checked TicketMaster and found that there was a performance scheduled to take place at Harrah's in Atlantic City, New Jersey on October 21. I dutifully purchased my tickets and patiently waited for the day to come.

My first hint that this show was not going to be all that I had hoped came in the "overture" performed by the orchestra as the opener for the show. I've always been a bit skeptical about asking a classical orchestra to perform songs originally written for the jazz/rock stylings of the Chicago horn section. While some of Cetera's own compositions come through the transition as though they were written that way, most Chicago pieces requite at least a little bit of swing for the horn riffs, even in orchestral form. The brass section or this particular orchestra swung with all the grace of a falling cinder block. Now don't get me wrong - I am sure that these are all very talented musicians, and quite accomplished in their own particular specialty areas. It simply became clear when they reached the "Get Away" horn break from "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" during the overture that this was not one of those areas.

My second gripe was Cetera's introduction song. As in the Salt Lake City recording, he walked out to the instrumental intro to "No Explanation." Unlike the Salt Lake City performance though, he did a single verse, cued the orchestra, apparently to skip a bit, invited the audience to sing along (even though by that point none of us had any idea where we were in the song anymore), and then promptly ended the song. I don't think I was the only one in the theater that was a little confused. The whole song lasted about a minute and a half and rather than thinking we had made up for the uncertainty of the overture, I was instead thinking, "if you didn't want to sing the song, why'd you choose it to be your opener?"

Once we got past that though, the show was really quite nice. Maybe it's the recordings I've been listening too, but I was beginning to think that Cetera had lost the edge and the range that used to so characterize his voice. I'm happy to report that, although not as powerful as it was during his peak in the eighties, Cetera's voice was on point tonight. Three very pretty duets with his daughter, Claire, brought a nice touch to the evening as well, as their voices blended very well together. Unfortunately, Claire's voice is not in the same range as Cher or Amy Grant, so there were times when she sounded like she was uncomfortable with the pieces. She obviously enjoyed the show, and since she is clearly talented, it might behoove both of them to write an original duet that showcases her own vocal range a little better.

As I mentioned before, many of Cetera's post-Chicago compositions (and even a couple of the Chicago-era ones) made the transition to pop pieces with orchestral backing very well. I felt that "Glory of Love" in particular sounded as though it could have been written that way originally. "Have You Ever Been in Love," accompanied only by a cello and guitar, came across with similar effect, and made an ideal closer for the show (in this case as the second encore).

And the encore brings me to my final thoughts, and, unfortunately, to my final gripe. Most musicians I've seen in concert at least pretend to be flattered when an audience demands an encore, even if it is utterly predictable. Cetera's reaction surprised me. He walked back out as though it had all been a planned part of the show. Of course, it was a planned part of the show, as it is for all major performing acts like that, but something about the body language made me feel like I was supposed to feel privileged to be getting what I was given rather than getting the impression that he felt privileged to give an encore performance in appreciation to the crowd.

Overall it was a good show. Unfortunately, it was short - only an hour for the main performance and another ten minutes or so for the two "encores." This, in combination with the large amount of talking Cetera did between the songs, and the behavior I thought I perceived during the encores made me feel as though he was just trying to get through the night. I went in hoping this would be one of the best concerts I have been to yet. As I write this though, I can't help but feel a little disappointed. Although it was a pretty good show, and I am very glad I got to see Peter Cetera in person, it was just not everything I was hoping.



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