Chic – Disco
This show was one that my wife was chancing to attend. She was looking to attend the Craig Leon show at 9:30 with me and thought that this might be a good show to attend first. My wife still had residual disco disdain, but was willing to give Chic a shot. Yeah, Chic were disco superstars, but I couldn’t deny that Rodgers and Edwards brought a lot of talent to bear on the genre. There was a world of difference between “Good Times” and insipid tripe like “Fly Robin Fly.”
I only recently found out that Roxy Music was an inspiration to Rodgers in the formation of Chic. He also related this fact in his panel discussion. When he saw Roxy music, he was floored by their presentation and the fact that they all looked like stars. Rodgers and Edwards realized that in spite of their musical chops, neither of them were frontmen in temperament. Roxy pointed the way forward as making Chic a brand rather than a star vehicle; hence the formation of The Chic Organization.
Seeing the band play that evening, really brought the Roxy Music comparisons home to roost. The band were accomplished and elegant and the overall vibe was extremely redolent of late period Roxy. In fact, it strongly reminded me of the “Avalon” tour period as filmed for “The High Road” home video. Not only in presentation but even more strongly in sound. The elegant, funky guitar of Neil Hubbard, in retrospection, seemed like a solid attempt to bring the Nile Rodgers sound under the Roxy umbrella. One that was a rousing success. And vocalist Fonzi Thornton had both Roxy Music and Chic on his storied CV. But really, everything about Chic tonight took me back to “The High Road” in many ways. Given that most subsequent Ferry solo albums featured Rodgers playing guitar, I’m betting that the influence dynamic between Roxy and Chic may have been mutual.
This evening, I heard Chic songs I had not heard since I was still listening to top 40 music, ca. 1977. Nile Rodgers also salted the pot with songs that he either wrote or produced for other artists, so the set encompassed tracks like the brilliant and sophisticated “I’m Coming Out” which was a smash for Diana Ross. I especially enjoyed hearing Chic play Duran Duran’s “Notorious” as it was a treat to hear Kimberly Davis sing the track and Chic’s horn section did the Borneo Horns proud. Even the turgid smash “Like A Virgin” was substantially elevated by having Ms. Davis singing the track a million times better than Madonna could.
And if deriving even an iota if enjoyment from that Madonna hit was a novelty to me, actually loving “Let’s Dance” wrested from David Bowie was a revelation. The drummer, Ralph Rolle, announced up front that he was excited to be singing his favorite Nile Rodgers production before launching into a killer rendition of the song that obviated my huge problem with the song that had lasted for 31 years. Specifically, removing Bowie from the song. The track sounded great, but it failed as a Bowie song because we expected something challenging from Bowie, and shorn of that baggage, it could now exist just as a [still bombastic] pop song… which Chic played the hell out of.
We were enjoying the set and I have to say that the mix was rich and musical with no concert fracking bass abuse marring our enjoyment. Bassist Jerry Barnes was eloquent and powerful onstage that night and it would have been tragic to have had his catlike basslines subjected to overamped distortion. Considering that Craig Leon was due to start his set at the Diana Wortham theatre at 9:30, the end time of the Chic set, that meant that we had to leave before the ending to make it across downtown Asheville in time. It spoke loudly that my wife was reluctant to go, and we kept hanging one for “one more song” before they served up “Le Freak,” by which time the crowd (including us) had been on their feet for at least 20 minutes or so. Fortunately, about 75 minutes into the set they played it and that seemed a good time to leave afterward.
In 1978, after the Disco Event Horizon®, threatened to engulf our entire culture, I went cold turkey on disco for at least five years. At that time, I could have hardly imagined that I would be attending a Chic concert half a lifetime later. But those disco scars have long since healed and for all of his production ups and downs Nile Rodgers remains a musician’s musician with the ability to bring immense sophistication and taste to the plate when called upon to do so. He’s been a major musical touchstone of his generation while crossing multiple genres of music to deliver platinum for a reason.
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