Conventional wisdom might hold that a band like Chicago, which has sold more records than any American band save the Beach Boys and toured every year since its 1969 recording debut, would be content to rest on its considerable laurels and simply blow through its hits in concert.
But according to singer and keyboardist Robert Lamm, who wrote many of the band's early hits, conventional wisdom is flatly wrong. What is now a nine-piece band, which comes to Heinz Hall Sunday, has kept up with the times when it comes to -- yes -- today's trends in recording and releasing new music, which the band is working on now.
"We'll be releasing in dribs and drabs," Mr. Lamm says. "By the new year there will be a dozen or so tracks, [and] by the end of June there will be two tracks available on iTunes. We will be releasing these songs as we finish them." He says that 12 tracks would be available on Chicago's next album -- no working title yet -- by the end of the year.
"It's more sophisticated, well-defined, more demanding, and it's played better by us, all the songs that we're recording for the new album, [it's] definitely Chicago," Mr. Lamm says.
Buying music today has gone retro in one important aspect, he says.
"People don't generally release CDs [anymore]. Most contemporary bands are releasing on vinyl," which he says is higher quality than in the past. "A lot of consumers of music will still download the music but will buy the vinyl because they want to look at the artwork."
Part of the new endeavor is to include one of the band's newest members, veteran keyboardist, songwriter and vocalist Lou Pardini, into the creative fold. Mr. Pardini co-wrote "Just to See Her," a 1987 hit for Smokey Robinson, and replaced Bill Champlin in 2009. Mr. Lamm and Mr. Pardini have teamed up on "Watching All the Colors of My Head."
"Any time that you can work with a fully developed person and musician it increases mathematically the creativity of the band and writing of the song," Mr. Lamm says. "It was the first song [he's] written for the band. Working on new music has been a key to getting to know how he thinks -- it's really a win-win for everybody."
Sunday's concert will be different from recent tours because there's no other act; in recent years Chicago has been paired with America, the Doobie Brothers and, most notably, Earth, Wind & Fire. But according to Mr. Lamm, when it comes to determining a set list, being the only group on stage is an advantage due to its own extensive catalog.
"We're playing close to three hours, all told," he says. "We've had 70 charted singles in our career, so [for a shorter concert] it becomes quite a chore to put together a cohesive show" because certain songs have to be left out.
And it has always tailored its set list to its worldwide audience.
"We don't want to play things that they don't like. If we play in Asia, that's a culture that really loves the ballads -- we have to stack them in there," Mr. Lamm says. "In Europe, we have to play the jazzy stuff." But for the hardcore fans, "There definitely is [material] you could qualify as album cuts."
Although Chicago generally plays outdoor amphitheaters, he recalls that it has done Heinz Hall before. And that's fine with the band.
"We're looking forward to playing indoors and in a place that's meant for music," he says.music
Rick Nowlin: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3871. First Published June 22, 2013 4:00 AM