A formidable hit-making outfit recently released their first album of new material in 26 years, with another to follow in May. But that reactivation was glossed over at the O2 Arena. Instead Chic — or Nile Rodgers & Chic as they are now known — stuck to the script of the nostalgia circuit that they have been playing since reuniting earlier this decade.
The focus was on old favourites, those disco, funk and soul warhorses that have been filling dance floors for the better part of 40 years — go-to songs for every party DJ who has seen revellers melt away at the acid jazz remix of the Chicago house rarity that they have just dropped.
Some of these hits were originally released under Chic’s name (“Everybody Dance”, “Le Freak”). Others were written and played for other acts (Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and “Lost in Music”). A few were made by Rodgers during his work as a producer (Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”). When drummer Ralph Rolle recited a list of the Chic bandleader’s achievements, one monumental figure stood out: the various pieces of music he has written, produced, performed and arranged have sold more than 500m records.
At the O2, Rodgers, wearing a dapper shiny suit, stood centre stage with his guitar. The six members of Chic wore nondescript black clothes, typical costume of the factotum musician. None was an original member of the band, which Rodgers formed in 1977 with his songwriting partner Bernard Edwards (who died in 1996). Two vocalists, Folami and Kimberly Davis, flanked the guitarist.
The set’s songs were greeted with warm recognition by the swaying mass of people that almost filled the huge venue. Rodgers’ economical guitar-playing, sleek yet highly expressive, was at the centre of the action. The singing, led by Davis, was exuberant and soulful, while the musicianship was tight. Songs were teased with long intros, like the passage of old-school soul vocalising that gave a trick opening to Rodgers’ Daft Punk collaboration “Get Lucky”.
A mood of undemanding joviality predominated. Only when a large group of people materialised on stage at the end, mostly young musicians discovered during Rodgers’ current London-based role as creative adviser to Abbey Road studios, did it move beyond nostalgia.
They danced as he and Chic played a freewheeling version of “Good Times”, with Rolle on drums and bassist Jerry Barnes going entertainingly off-piste. “This is what party music is supposed to be,” Rodgers declared. But he was too much the pro to risk emptying the dance floor with new songs.
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