Leonid and Friends, by Rich Paschall
There are a lot of “cover bands.” You know, bands that “cover” (play) the music of famous bands. Some are good or very good. Some are bad or very bad. A few are amazing. Here in the midwest, we can see bands all around the area who play as if they are the original band. We have a few who dress like the Beatles and are pretty good at it. I’ve seen cover bands play Led Zepplin and Black Sabbath that are also very accurate. These are different from nostalgia bands who play a variety of “oldies.” Cover bands desire to be exactly like the band whose music they are playing.
About a year ago a friend posted a video on Facebook of a band “covering” Chicago (the band). “You’ve got to see these guys, they are amazing.” Of course, I was skeptical. I have many Chicago albums and have seen them a least a dozen times in concert. I have seen their television specials and guest appearances. I recently reviewed their latest “Chicago Christmas” album. I figure you have to be pretty darn good to try to pass yourselves off as Chicago. They are better than darn good, they are amazing.
The surprising thing about this collection of players is they are not local. They are not even from the USA. The group is mostly from Moscow, but are collected across a vast region to come together for their love of a different kind of music. They had posted a few videos previously, but their rendition of 25 or 6 to 4 (“Без 25 или без 26 минут 4”) on YouTube went viral and now has over 2.6 million views. In case you think they have not nailed it, listen to the original Chicago audio here.
Leonid Vorobyev, a musical director from Moscow, had reached the age of retirement (60) five years ago but wanted to put together a studio project for a Chicago song. Chicago had never been to Russia. The sheet music was not available there. So Leonid listened to the song carefully and set out to write down the music and vocal harmonies, transcribing what he heard. “We have only audio records and videos (to help us learn Chicago songs),” Leonid told a reporter.
The plan was to create a studio recording that sounded exactly like the studio recording of Chicago. One project led to another. If you watch the early videos, you will see that he uses different musicians along the way. They had no thoughts of live performances and tours.
Then they became famous. Even members of Chicago liked the tribute. Leonid’s son joined on as manager and got some live performances for the intergenerational group. In early 2019 they brought the group to the US for a handful of shows. They were a hit. More invitations were received. That led to a Fall 2019 “Fancy Colours” tour.
Just west of Chicago, a little more than an hour from where I live (two in rush hour), is the town of St. Charles. It is home to the 897 seat Arcada Theater. Built in 1926, the theater building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Since 2005 it is operated by the Onesti Entertainment Corporation. This group has been able to line up big-name acts for the theater. They saw the Leonid videos and booked the group. The band was coming to Chicago…well, almost.
Leonid and Friends played some of Chicago’s biggest hits as well as some album tracks that Chicago does not play in concert. It is Leonid’s labor of love, and the group plays his choices. You can see this band is a diverse group, and they blend together well.
Leonid explained that finding someone to sing the parts originally performed by Peter Cetera was a challenge. They ran an online competition to find the right person. Their choice was not in Russia but in Kyiv, Ukraine. Serge Tiagniryadno (vocals, guitar) does a commendable job on the early Chicago tunes.
Just as in Chicago, Leonid and Friends use a number of singers. Sergey Kashirin (vocals, guitar) covers some of the songs performed by Robert Lamm. He may not sound exactly like Lamm, but he has the delivery down perfectly. The inflections in each performance would make you believe he listened to some of the songs over and over.
In addition to playing guitar like Lamm does on Beginnings, he covers the Terry Kath guitar parts with an accuracy you can hardly believe. Kath was arguably one of the best rock guitar players ever, and his live performances can not be duplicated. The studio work must have taken many hours of practice, even for the well-educated musician. At the St. Charles performance, Sergey was wearing a t-shirt that said “Kath” and contained the famed Chicago guitar player’s picture.
Roman Vorobyev acted like an emcee and introduced a few of the songs and gave some background of the band. Leonid, who also speaks good English, introduced the band members to the sold-out theater audience.
At the intermission, a Russian gentleman in my row said he had seen the group in Moscow. “You know how many groups are playing music like this in Russia?” he asked. I guess a few of us in the row just had blank faces for a response. “None!” he said. “No one else is doing this.” Actually, only one other group continues to play music like this here… Chicago, the band.
Sources: “How a group of guys from Moscow became an internationally renowned Chicago tribute band,” Los Angeles Daily News, January 11, 2019.
“Leonid and Friends,” Official website.
“Arcada Theater Building,” Wikipedia.