Strictly a disco thing here in London tonight and there’s a good-sized crowd that looks to be in the thirty to forty something age range here to reminisce. The warm up DJ is playing songs like “Boogie Oogie Oogie” from 1978 by A Taste of Honey so right from the off the vibe here tonight says to paarrrrty :-). (By the way, great bassline on that song by bassist/vocalist Janice Marie Johnson, check it out here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUclIoNpPO0&feature=related).
Of course, a Chic gig is always going to be a bittersweet event since bass machine Bernard Edwards died in 1996, and I’m wondering who Nile Rodgers has recruited in his place. His band tonight consists of drums, trumpet, saxophone, male and female keyboard players and the requisite two Chic female lead singers (one African American the other Latina). They launch straight into an explosive version of their very first single from 1977 “Dance, Dance, Dance” and the crowd erupts with shouts of recognition. There’s that trademark scratchy Nile Rodgers funky guitar which morphs into a solo that shows off his skill, and everyone joins in the chant of “Yowser, yowser, yowser”.
From here it’s a non-stop party with this great band leading the crowd in hand claps, chants and effortless showmanship. You can’t help but dance to this sort of stuff and Chic were always about unashamedly good times anyway so why not? They launch into a new song which features a funky solo by the female keyboard player who gets a huge round of applause. Next they do “I want your love” with the trumpet and sax combining to beef up the sound.
Nile Rodgers then tells us that he’s written or produced a lot of songs for other people who then make those songs their own. So tonight he’d like to run through some of these songs as he doesn’t get a chance to play them live that often. This is a cue to remind us of some great songs that he’s been responsible for as a producer. He starts with two that he produced for Diana Ross, “I’m coming out” and “Upside Down”. Next, it’s the Sister Sledge classics “He’s the greatest dancer” and “We are family”. After that we get “He’s a spacer” which he wrote for French singer Sheila, then the Madonna smash “Like a virgin”. The band then launch into that other Sister Sledge classic “Thinking of you (and the things you do to me). After this song, Nile gets very emotional and says he actually wrote this song about Bernard Edwards because they always used to get on each others nerves and in his heart it’s always going to be his song. Listen to that song again in that context and it sounds very different. They end this medley of songs with the massive hit Nile produced for David Bowie – “Let’s dance”. This is sung by the drummer, who has a baritone that perfectly complements the funky version of this song that the band play.
They then go back to the Chic classics so it’s time for “My forbidden lover” and that great dance number “Le freak”. This provokes a huge reaction from the ecstatic crowd and it’s a perfect way to close the show as the band file off stage to rapturous applause. Of course, there’s still one more Chic classic to go and it’s the perfect encore tune. “Good times” sounds as fresh and vibrant now as it did when I first heard it in 1979. Not only was it a great song in its own right, but the fact that the Sugarhill Gang also used it that same year gave it a longevity and introduced us all to a phenomenon that still resonates today. Nile himself obviously recognises this fact, as halfway through his own song he raps the opening two verses of “Rapper’s Delight” alongside the chanting crowd. It’s the perfect way to end a set. One of the most influential dance music producers blazing through their back catalog alongside a skilled bunch of musicians. Good times? Pretty much assured when Chic are in the house.