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Live Nude Horns: XXX!

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 21, 2006 7:16PM

While out of town this week, Chicagoist wandered into a piano bar. The gent behind the keys asked us where we were from. “Chicago,” we replied. “I love that band,” he said.

2006_03_chicago.jpgWe cringed a little bit at that. We’re loath to have our city closely identified with a band that is more famous for Prom themes than anything else. But after we thought about it some more, the comparison makes a lot of sense.

Despite the fame of the Smashing Pumpkins or Kanye West, Chicago is the artist most often identified with our city, for obvious reasons. The former Chicago Transit Authority has origins that are informed by its namesake city, and their jazz and blues influences loomed large in the Chicago of the late 1960s. Formed in 1967 in a time of both national and local turmoil, the history of the band is one of conflict: between the group and its management; between its more experimental jams and the ballads that achieved its greatest chart success; and the disconnect between its reputation as one of the biggest selling bands ever that is continually denied critical recognition.

Living well is often the best revenge. When one tallies albums and single sales, Chicago is the 2nd biggest selling American rock band ever, second only to the Beach Boys. The group releases its 30th album today (keeping with the band’s trademark use of Roman numerals, it’s merely called XXX), and as Thomas Conner points out in today’s Sun-Times, “30 albums is a milestone for any band,” especially since others of their era are content to shill new Greatest Hits compilations or live albums.

Their biggest hits, however, are from a Peter Cetera-dominated schmaltzy 80s period, where the band served as the soundtrack for countless youth trying to feel up their dates under the watchful eyes of Sister Mary Elizabeth during chaperoned school dances. Since Cetera* left for brief solo success, the band has often been dismissed as a ready-for-the-state-fair oldies act.

So for all that success, Chicago is still driven by that heavy chip on its shoulder—just like its namesake city.

* If you’ve got time to kill, go check out the “PC Speaks” section of Cetera’s website. It makes some MySpace pages look like they were written by Tolstoy.