Chicago Touring Authority
Abandoning normalcy was not a unique experience in 2020, but some lost more of a routine than others. The '70s progressive rock band Chicago suddenly dropped a more than 50-year-old routine in entertainment, an industry that was quickly deemed non-essential – although sorely missed.
Austin director Peter Curtis Pardini brings light to this story — a nearly universal one aside from its heightened sense of disruption — in The Last Band On Stage, a documentary screening on October 8 at the Austin Film Society. Pardini, and Chicago drummer Walfredo Reyes Jr. will attend the screening in Austin, while Chicago founding member Lee Loughnane joins via Skype.
The title points out the film’s hook, which claims that Chicago was the “last band playing in the U.S. as COVID lockdowns begin” — something that several local bands out of any city could dispute, were they unconcerned about sounding irresponsible. However, the veteran rock band, a Grammy Hall-of-Famer and one of Billboard's Top 125 Artists Of All Time, were not just conspicuous; they were virtually inextricable from live music until the pandemic achieved the impossible.
Austin in particular is constantly reminded of the shutdown of South by Southwest, one of the most drastic and immediate individual lockdown consequences in any industry, anywhere. Yet past its Austin provenance, this documentary offers a wider perspective from a touring band exposed to national expectations and logistics.
Not many can discuss the magnitude of system shock that comes from the sudden end of a five-decade work habit — touring, that is — let alone for players who found themselves among one of the most vulnerable populations, considering age. Few can discuss touring for 50 years in any conditions, nor compare each year to the next with the first hand historical consistency Chicago can, now aged 55 as a group.
The story offers not just a rehashing of pandemic struggles, but insight into the group and the industry coping skills it developed over many eras of popular music.
The short description of the film, narrated by Tony winner and “Chicago super-fan” Joe Mantegna, promises survival, and in its current collective career, the band delivers. A new 2022 single, “If This Is Goodbye,” echoes the 1976 hit “If You Leave Me Now,” but with a more eclectic, upbeat arrangement.
The band has been announcing concerts in a steady stream since August of 2021, with Southern dates across mid-fall including three dates in Texas: Tyler on October 29, Midland on November 1, and Lubbock on November 2.
Tickets ($11) for the October 8, 1:30 pm screening at AFS Cinema are available at austinfilm.org. The film runs 90 minutes.