At Carnegie Hall
Released: October 1971
Chart Peak: #3
Weeks Charted: 46
Certified Platinum: 11/21/86
One critic, in reviewing this four-record live set by Chicago, recommended sides two and five. Now think about that for a minute. We're not going to be that selective. What we will say is that anyone who appreciates Chicago will revel in this box of goodies. Virtually all of their most familiar material is included -- "Questions 67 and 68," "Make Me Smile," "25 Or 6 To 4," "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is" -- but they were to be expected. More surprising is the fine quality of sound which runs throughout. There is nary an off note either -- probably because the tracks were selected from among a full week's worth of music during the band's engagement at Carnegie Hall. A nice feeling of closeness pervades the proceedings. We can hear asides from members of the group, in addition, of course, to comments from the audience. Nothing like informality -- and that's really what this is all about. After several highly polished and successful records, Chicago just lets their hair down and plays for the people. And that's what time it really is.
- Ed Kelleher, Circus, 2/72.
This was recorded during the group's week long series of concerts at New York's famed hall (the Fillmore of the classical buffs). First the music: a lot of familiar items are included naturally and they get the benefit of audience enthusiasm underlining them. New material gets an initial tryout, still in the cross pollination (rock and brass) groove that seems to give Chicago its wide range. The hydra-headed free form emerges in the piano introduction to "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?," that could point the way the group might travel in their jazz feeling. The packaging: for a start there are four disks, all done at a special low price, a picture booklet, a poster and a huge poster, plus a voter registration chart to appeal to the 18-year-olds and over. Visually it's all very nice, but there could have been more detail, more actual words, about the seven-piece group. All in all though, one of the more impressive releases of the year.
- Hit Parader, 4/72.
Since all three of Chicago's studio albums were double sets, it doesn't really come as much of a surprise that their live album is proportionately larger: eight sides of introductions, between-song raps, tuning up and, oh yes, music, a little less than three hours all told. But unless you're a real Chicago freak, this mammoth package will come off disappointing, musically speaking.
For one thing, there is only one new tune among the whole bunch of what could accurately be termed "Chicago's greatest hits." "A Song For Richard And His Friends" is quite interesting and bodes well for the band's next studio effort; structurally, it's a bit more complex and Chicago performs it with noticeably more spirit than they do some of the older songs.
Of course, the inclusion of previously recorded material wouldn't be so redundant if Chicago's stage act wasn't what it is. They are not a jam band like the Allmans or the Dead and although they do improvise on occasion, it's very tightly controlled. Nor is soloing either widespread nor, when it does occur, very extended. Chicago's forte is ensemble playing in which each instrument and/or voice does his individual part within the whole. Such a format, consequently, doesn't make for really distinct variation from the studio cuts, so a piece with real potential for experimentation, like trombonist Jim Pankow's "Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon," fares no better and no worse than the original.
Chicago is a good band though because they have three excellent lead vocalists, each member is proficient on his instrument, and they have first-rate material to work with. When they loosen up a bit, the results are free-swinging, free-blowing rock and roll and for that reason "Mother" is one of the most enjoyable cuts of the set. "Flight 602," also from the third LP, benefits from live performance in losing the too-sweet harmonies that marred the original.
If you don't have any Chicago whatsoever, then this monster (with posters and booklets and other neat stuff) is a good place to start. If, on the other hand, you're a Chicago fanatic, you'll want it just because it's theirs or because your copies of their other records are scratchy from being played so much. For myself, I hope these LPs mark the end of the band's first evolutionary stage.
- Doug Colette, Hit Parader, 9/72.
I'm not claiming actually to have listened to this four-record set -- you think I'm a nut? -- but the event is too overwhelming to ignore altogether, and Chicago is a C- group if I ever heard one. Anyway, the packaging offers textual support for my opinion. The shrink-wrap is so loose that many Christmas gift recipients are going to suspect their girlfriends of buying review copies. And the lack of paper sleeves inside the cardboard sleeves inside the big box means that the only way to avoid scratching these plastic documents is to put the whole shebang out on the coffee table and never touch it again. C-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Carnegie Hall may be prestigious, but it has never been a good rock venue, and Chicago seems intimidated on this four-LP (three-CD) set, recreating material from its first three albums. Completists should note the inclusion of the anti-Nixon "A Song For Richard And His Friends," not previously available. *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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