5 reasons Nile Rodgers and Chic was the feelgood show of the year

Even by his own high benchmark, 2013 has been a special year for Nile Rodgers. A lot’s happened since the last time Chic came to Sydney to play the hits. After reaching a “unified plane of grooviness” with Daft Punk on Random Access Memories, the band leader has worked with Avicii, Disclosure, Jessie Ware, Chase & Status and Tensnake in a dream run of studio sessions.

As befitting his current go-to-guy status, on this tour Rodgers and his Chic players have been upgraded from the relative grunginess of the Metro Theatre to the soaring Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. The result? A show capable of warming even the most glacial heart. Here’s just a few of the reasons he can come back any time.

#1 Staying seated is impossible

Judging by the boozy buzz in the foyer before doors open, it’s clear no other night but Saturday would’ve suited this show. Profiling this crowd isn’t easy, either. The place is teeming with young and old: kids still in school, 20-something clubbers, couples with babysitters booked, and true believers who remember dancing to Le Freak when it first came out.

As soon as the lights go down, an ecstatic feeling fills the Concert Hall. While a few months ago, James Blake held the same space in hushed reverie, tonight is all about the party. After the band files out to giddy cheers, Rodgers approaches the mic to marvel at the section of seating behind the stage. Yes, people have paid to see the rear view of Chic for two hours, and they don’t look disappointed with the decision.

Within minutes, almost everyone is on their feet, many rediscovering dance moves thought long lost. By the time Ralph Rolle is singing David Bowie’s Let’s Dance from behind the drum-kit, staying seated is simply not an option.

#2 The set-list is a parade of bona-fide hits

The first 20 minutes of Chic’s set is a rally of classics from the golden age of disco, and the band plays each one with astounding verve. (It helps, too, that we’re in a concert hall with world-class acoustics.) At the first break for a breather, Rodgers reminds us that this isn’t a covers show: every song played tonight he had a hand in. Of course that means a trip back in time through the Chic catalogue, but also the hits Rodgers helped create for the likes of INXS, Diana Ross and Sister Sledge, each led by his slinky guitar lines.

It’s far from a one-man show tonight, either. A towering presence in all-white from his suit jacket to his sneakers, bass guitarist Jerry Barnes is blessed with The Funk, and his groove is only heightened by saxophone, trumpet and keys. Hearing these songs played live is a rare joy.

#3 Vocalist Kimberly Davis is a powerhouse

Channeling Diana Ross is an unforgiving brief, but Kimberly Davis is no ordinary vocalist. On song after song, her gutsy, soulful voice surges to the back of the room, backed by Folami Thompson at stage left. When their voices come together on Chic classics, the impulse to stand and stare is only overruled by the need to dance.

#4 Nile Rodgers is a born showman

Late in the show, Rodgers pauses to reflect on his dream run since he was diagnosed with aggressive cancer three years ago. Doctors told him to get his affairs in order, he tells the room, which he took to mean, “Write more songs.” That he’s still here, beaming out to the Concert Hall, is something to marvel at.

Throughout the set, the star of the show seems as ecstatic as the fans on their feet. His banter is by turns wry and earnest (it’s clear his affection for his late musical partner Bernard Edwards is undimmed), and he sports the smile of a man who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

#5 The last ten minutes might be the most endearing

Rodgers has said that he won’t play his Random Access Memories blockbusters without Daft Punk, and he’s true to his word. After the celebratory end-of-show Good Times/Rappers Delight jam, the frontman shouts out Thomas and Guy-Man, before Get Lucky comes shimmering out the venue’s PA.

As the song plays out (and we all dance), Rodgers shakes hands and soaks up the applause. Then, just when we think he’s headed for the exit, it’s time for Lose Yourself To Dance, accompanied by more working the crowd. The cheering and stomping from all sides barely lets up the entire time. After nearly two hours, we’re all true believers in the Church of Nile.

(Photos by Daniel Boud.)

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