Cardiff Castle, Fri 12 July
“I have the best day job in the world!” chirps Nile Rodgers, during a typically brief pause between songs and in the manner of someone who considers telling people he has the best day job in the world to be part of his day job. It is true that playing some extremely famous songs to five-figure audiences, who have paid what would in some cases be a day’s wages for the privilege, beats the uranium mines hands down. Yet many, given a similar platform to the Chic founding member and disco doyen, come off like they’re phoning it in; it’s a credit to Rodgers that he avoids this pitfall.
As per the words just below the photo, this is ‘Nile Rodgers & Chic’ because only he, the group’s guitarist, remains from their late-1970s purple period. As such, the 90-minute-no-more-no-less show takes in several of the better known Chic songs – Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) opens proceedings – as well as many written by Chic in production-team mode. The duo of Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards, who died in 1996, struck big early on with the likes of Sister Sledge’s We Are Family and Diana Ross’ I’m Coming Out, both of which get aired here with minimal trumpet blowing (metaphorically speaking; there is a trumpet player onstage).
Anyone who didn’t catch Chic in Cardiff just before Christmas, or elsewhere, the combo of a session-tastic backing band and a lot of time to fill might have sparked predictions of virtuosic noodle and indulgent soloing. It did for me, anyway, and I could have barely been wronger. Rodgers and band are ruthlessly efficient, fusing songs together quasi-megamix style: Material Girl and Like A Virgin, two Chic-produced Madonna songs, are treated thus. Kimberley Davis, Chic vocalist of a decade standing, is in solid imitation-Madge voice for these – it’s actually only Chic smash Le Freak where she’s noticeably not quite up to the original.
Not that the crowd appear fussed about this sort of sonic pedantry, or that most of the big screen graphics look like vintage Windows screensavers, or that Get Lucky – the Daft Punk song which precipitated Rodgers’ return to the elite – is sung in a melismatic ‘soul’ version for two minutes before they quit the pretence and play it properly. In any case, the guitarist precedes this with a speech confirming that he is now “100% cancer-free” (something he’s only known himself for days, it seems), so which flint-hearted groover present would begrudge him?
The final lap of a set that feels blessedly shorter than it actually is finds several dozen audience members – I assume VIP ticket holders – bounding onstage for Good Times: the ultimate scene-that-celebrates-itself anthem, one appropriated by the Sugarhill Gang for Rappers’ Delight. At the time, Chic sued the hip-hop progenitors for borrowing Edwards’ bassline without asking. A hair under 40 years later, Rodgers segues into it, does the rap himself, circles back to Good Times and bids us goodnight. A neat reframing of late-20th-century musical history from someone who exerted considerable influence over it.
words NOEL GARDNER photos MORGAN DEVINE [top] / SIN LAM HART [bottom]