Review by Thomas Frodsham
‘Freak Out! Le Freak say Chic’- everyone knows those lyrics; so to watch the legendary musician perform it with all the other hits he’s responsible for was a unique experience.
The Ritz was absolutely packed. The queue for the gig went all the way to the Sainsburys on Oxford Road; it wasn’t until 9.20 when everyone managed to get inside. The performance was pushed back half an hour so the majority could get in on time before the show began.
All dressed in white suits (John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever-esque) Rodgers and his band were “gonna make you dance all night long” – and that they did! Phew! I think all that mum-dancing around me and the packed out audience must have turned up the heat as it was like a sauna. Bikram yoga seems liked child’s play compared to The Ritz.
Even though Rodgers is more obviously known for being the guitarist of Chic, defining the late seventies disco sound in America, it’s his work in the Eighties that really catapulted him into music cult star super status. Forget Timbaland, Calvin Harris or RedOne, Rodgers was the original super producer. His production discography includes albums such as ‘diana’ by Diana Ross, ‘Lets Dance’ by David Bowie, and ‘Like a Virgin’ by Madonna, as well as countless others including Duran Duran, Grace Jones and Sister Sledge.
The music really was disco at it’s best, made for the clubs – with added RnB elements. The two female Chic singers on the night deserve a credit as their vocals were powerful and endured each of the disco hits. Particularly when performing ‘Like A Virgin’. It was great to watch the producer responsible for one of the last centuries most iconic pop songs perform it in a live capacity.
‘Notorious’ (Duran Duran), ‘Lost in Music’ (Sister Sledge) and Spacer (Sheila) were also notable performances. Rodgers’ flawless funky guitar playing kept the rhythm and pace going throughout the night. At one point, bringing down the pace in between tracks, Rodgers quietly built the audience’s anticipation for the next track, only to belt out Bowies ‘Let’s Dance’! Anyone who knows good music, and dance music at that knows that this is a celebrated anthem. They literally blew the roof off with that one.
As the performance moved on, the pace grew. You could really feel all those Chic hits were being saved till last. Saving the best till last is always a good recipe for a great gig isn’t it? The ‘Chic Cheer’ crept into each track; it was like being back at Studio 54 with Warhol, Jagger and Minnelli all over again (I imagine so).
A favourite of mine ‘My Forbidden Lover’ was played with the ‘Uh oh Uh oh Uh oh Uh oh Uh na na’ from Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’ sampled in the instrumental bridge of the track adding a touch of Sasha Fierce for the single ladies. At one point even Johnny Marr of The Smiths got up on stage and played with the band. Rodgers spoke of Marr after the track saying he thinks of him as his ‘younger brother’ and he has huge respect for his talent as they’ve collaborated in the past.
Just when I thought I couldn’t ‘Dance! Dance! Dance!’ any longer (I couldn’t resist that pun) penultimate track of the night ‘Le Freak’ came on! One of discos most defining hits, and still one the States’ best selling singles of all time, it even now has the charm and power today to get people dancing. I’m glad they played the extended version instead of the edit, as it’s really the song Chic is best known for.
Before the last track Rodgers invited members of the audience on stage ‘to keep this disco burning’. Giving you an impression of what a great showman and performer he is. Performing FOR the audience, really wanting us to relax and ‘disco’ all night.
The final track was ‘Good Times’, the song caught Chic at the peak of their career in 1979 and defined their signature sound. The layered music and melody shows Rodgers’ producing skills at their most influential. The bass line has since been sampled in countless tracks. Most famously in ‘Rappers Delight’ by The Sugarhill Gang. When performing ‘Good Times’ Rodgers performed a rendition of the famous first verse of ‘Rappers Delight’ in the central bridge to major applause.
‘These. Are. The. Good. Times!’ really showed the magic of disco, and the nostalgia of these tracks keeps Chic’s popularity going. Rodgers rhythmic guitar playing was captivating. It’s the kind of sound you can’t help but move to. I believe if it was up to Rodgers the show would have gone on all night, but you know, there is a curfew unfortunately.
After we applauded each member of the band for their performance, and only when Rodgers was left on stage, Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’-which Rodgers plays guitar on and is seen in the video- was played as he slowly said his thanks and goodbyes to the audience.
His signature sound STILL influences today’s biggest artists. All you need to do is listen to Daft Punk, Maroon 5, The Neptunes and Will.I.Am to hear that Rodgers guitar riff rhythm somewhere in the music. Forget ‘Disco Sucks’, it’s never going to go away with that kind of legacy.