Earth, Wind & Fire has always been a band without an obvious star, a true collective of creative artists unified in a goal of spreading soul, funk, jazz, rock, R&B and sonic love throughout the universe.
You could make a case that the late Maurice White, who founded the group in Chicago in 1969, served the role of frontman for the greater part of the band’s existence, but if there’s a single iconic voice best associated with EWF, that would have to belong to Colorado-born Philip Bailey. The 67-year-old singer, songwriter and percussion player known for his incredible four-plus octave range is back on the Las Vegas Strip this week for another special engagement at the Venetian Theatre, along with fellow original members Verdine White and Ralph Johnson and the rest of the Earth, Wind & Fire family.
“I’ve been really fortunate. I haven’t had any issues with my voice,” Bailey says. “You learn over the years what to do and what not to do and I’m very much still discovering the instrument and having fun with it, learning new things all the time. It’s an ongoing process. As you live you evolve and grow and discover, and I don’t like to look at anything as an arrival. I always like to look at it as a discovery and an evolutionary process.”
There’s typically a time during every Earth, Wind & Fire concert when Bailey seizes the spotlight for a powerful display of his vocal abilities. Sometimes it comes at the end of “Reasons,” the beloved ballad from 1974, when he really shows off by hitting some impossibly high and resonant notes.
“I was always mimicking high-register singers as a kid but I also studied operating as a baritone because I’m a natural baritone,” he says. “On certain nights I can tweak it a little bet more. I just go up there in a kind of surrendered state and just enjoy the process. For me, there’s not a lot of thinking going on up there, it’s just enjoying the experience and the symbiotic relationship between what the audience is giving and what we’re doing.”
Bailey enjoys Las Vegas audiences because the group’s shows here bring in a different group of fans every night. That’s one of the factors that makes Earth, Wind & Fire’s current run at the Venetian, which began last spring, such a success for the band and its following.
“There’s a different energy every night, it’s never the same and you never know what’s going to happen,” Bailey says. “We’re always geared up and ready to have an exciting time, and it’s good to not have to travel as much and do those back-to-back shows. We can just come downstairs and make it happen.”
Earth, Wind & Fire performs at 8 p.m. March 20, 22, 23, 27, 29 and 30 at the Venetian Theatre at the Venetian (3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-414-1000) and more information can be found at venetian.com.