(Chicago; July 27, 2017) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Nile Rodgers has a heavy burden to bear.

He’s the last remaining member of the original lineup of the disco/funk/R&B band Chic – now formally called CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers – a group whose best years were between 1977 and 1980, essentially the peak and fall of disco as a mainstream music genre.

Nile Rodgers of CHIC

As such, Rodgers is carrying the torch for a band that last lit up the pop charts with 1979’s “Good Times,” a No. 1 pop and soul smash that is still one of the most venerable jams in modern music history, having been recognized as such by the Rock Hall of Fame, Rolling Stone Magazine, Billboard and several other important industry authorities.

Chic is a band that alternates with Earth Wind & Fire as my favorite all-time group, which is what makes watching them perform live in concert some 40 years after their prime – and with two-thirds of their famed rhythm section, Bernard Edwards (bass) and Tony Thompson (drums), now deceased – one of the most agonizing of duties.

(From L to R): Nile Rodgers, Tony Thompson and Bernard Edwards of Chic’s original lineup.

For starters, Chic is at its core a disco band, a fact that founder and cancer survivor Nile Rodgers now handily admits (although at times in the past he and partner Edwards were quick to denounce that pigeonholed approach to categorizing their music).  As a disco band, their mission is to accomplish one thing when they perform:  get butts out of seats and have people dancing as if no one is watching and their lives depended on it.

In that way, Chic was very successful when it opened for Earth, Wind & Fire on July 26 here at Chicago’s United Center during their joint concert – dubbed “2054 The Tour.”  Nile Rodgers with his rhythm guitar led his latest ensemble of musicians through Chic’s biggest hits, including “Good Times,” “Le Freak,” “I Want Your Love,” “Dance, Dance Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” and “Everybody Dance.”  And butts were definitely shaking and wiggling as people stood at their seats while clapping and singing along to those familiar disco grooves.  Many even gave the old familiar disco chant, “ooo-op, ooo-op” – several times – as the party raged on.

But as far as Chic songs went, that was it.  Just those five tunes.  The rest was a smattering of huge hits by other artists that Nile Rodgers either co-wrote and/or co-produced, mainly with Edwards (whom he never mentioned once, btw), under the entity The CHIC Organization.  They included Sister Sledge’s “He’s The Greatest Dancer” and “We Are Family,” Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down,” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” (the latter being produced solely by Rodgers in 1983 as Chic was breaking up).

There was also the latter-day hit, “Get Lucky,” the Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams smash on which Nile Rodgers was featured as a special guest in 2013.

All of those were songs worthy of a Chic concert; after all, with the exception of the David Bowie and Daft Punk tunes, these were essentially Chic hits in their original forms – just with different vocalists singing the leads (shhhh, don’t anyone tell Diana Ross that).

Chic wrote, produced and played all instruments and background vocals on this classic Diana Ross album, featuring “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down.”

I’d even go as far as to say that Chic’s version of “Upside Down” sounded funkier (and better) on this night than any version I’ve heard Ms. Ross sing live (and I’ve seen her do it twice in person).

But diehard Chic fans know there is much more to the band’s repertoire than what they played at this concert.  For instance, it would have been nice to see them perform the disco classics “My Forbidden Lover” or “Chic Cheer.”  As a reminder, “Chic Cheer” is the mostly instrumental 1978 tune from their second album, a song that formed the sampled melody for Faith Evans’ “Love Like This” 20 years later.

Or, as far as “non-Chic” Chic songs go, it would have been nice to hear Sister Sledge’s “Thinking of You” or “Lost In Music,” both stellar tunes from their platinum We Are Family album, which was produced by Rodgers and Edwards and fully backed by Chic’s vocalists and musicians in 1979.

Alas, those tunes were left out, likely the result of their limited popularity here in the states (both of the Sledge songs were hits abroad).  But I get it… as an opening act, the band was likely on a limited clock.  Eleven songs were probably all it could squeeze in before Earth, Wind & Fire’s stage transformation was slated to begin – and Rodgers likely had to choose wisely.  Given the choice between their lesser hits and the ones he picked, it makes sense why we heard “Let’s Dance” and not Chic’s “Rebels Are We,” for instance.

But song choices – or omissions – weren’t the only issue.  Another concern, at least for the audiophile in me, was the way the songs were played.

Every true Chic fan knows that the group’s original style was one of subtlety and sophistication.  The band used a minimalist approach to all their hits as well as the songs they produced for others.  Back then, the focus was always on their intricate rhythm section, particularly the guitar-and-bass interplay between Rodgers and Edwards, with Thompson keeping the beat using a repetitive drum and cymbals syncopation that was slightly overused, but still the band’s signature nonetheless.  This sound was aided by the band’s sparing use of keyboards, playful piano flourishes, well-placed hand claps and sharp strings – oh, those Chic Strings.

Less a factor in those days were blaring horns, long drum solos and even longer,  exaggerated vocal runs.  In fact, Chic’s original vocalists rarely moved beyond their choppy, staccato style of singing, whether it be verse or chorus (unless they were singing ballads, which were also rare).

Those aspects were what gave Chic its unique vibe that set it apart from other disco acts.  They were key ingredients that helped them sell millions of records over a two-year period.

So to see the newer incarnation of Chic’s lead vocalists doing their best Mariah Carey (in her prime) and Christina Aguilera imitations, turning single notes into marathons, was disheartening to the most discerning among fans, or at least to this fan.  One of the vocalists, Kimberly Davis, had the notable distinction of having a recent No. 1 song on the Billboard Dance/Club Play chart, but you would have sworn she was auditioning on “The Voice” or “America’s Got Talent” with how she handled the mic when given the spotlight.

But I get it… this is 2017, and that’s where we are with R&B and soul vocals these days.  Davis’s vocals were a crowd pleaser and she is a product of her generation, where subtlety and nuance are things of the past, replaced by acrobatic vocal turns that grate more than they satiate (where are Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin when you need them?).

All of that said, CHIC fully satisfied the less critical fans out there, those that simply came to see two of their favorite bands from the past – bands whose biggest hits include the words “Dance,” “Freak,” “Boogie” and “Groove” in their titles – so they could shake their asses off.

And with that goal in mind, I’d say CHIC’s mission was accomplished, because the thousands of enthusiastic fans who were in attendance did just that…and “Good Times” were had by most.

And for that alone, I give Nile Rodgers full credit… because someone’s gotta carry the Chic torch, even if it means making slight adjustments to keep up with the times.

But a brother still can reminisce about the old days, can’t he?


Chic’s 2054 Set List (Chicago, IL):

  1. “Everybody Dance”
  2. “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)”
  3. “I Want Your Love”
  4. “I’m Coming Out” (Diana Ross)
  5. “Upside Down” (Diana Ross)
  6. “He’s The Greatest Dancer” (Sister Sledge)
  7. “We Are Family”
  8. “Get Lucky” (Daft Punk)
  9. “Let’s Dance” (David Bowie)
  10. “Le Freak”
  11. (Medley) “Good Times”/”Rapper’s Delight” (Sugar Hill Gang)

PS: click here for the article covering Earth, Wind & Fire’s performance.

By DJ Rob

2 thoughts on “CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers (Slightly) Disappoints… but Ultimately Pleases in Chitown”
  1. I came to this review three years late! I always enjoy your reviews and take on Chic, especially your breakdown of, I Want Your Love–simply stellar! With that said, I have not had the opportunity to see the current Chic line-up in concert, however I was fortunate to see Chic back in its hey-day and I admit that the videos of the current band sound much stronger than the past Chic. Yes, I know that is Sacrilegious! Please allow me to give my take.

    What connected me to Chic back in 1977 and clinched it for me was their full sophisticated R&B sound. Yes they were more than a disco band!

    Imagine my excitement when Chic was the top bill of the Kool Jazz Festival of 1980 at Busch Stadium where the St Louis Cardinals played their games. The stadium held more than 50 thousand. There were some amazing groups in the lineup including Cameo, Kool & the Hang, and Sister Sledge. The Festival was over two nights. Sister Sledge was up on Friday night and hit at out the ball park, and turned it out! They owned the night. They came out on Lost in Music and continued with “Home” from the Wiz. The minor hit, “Reach Your Peak” had the audience going crazy. By the time they ended with, We Are Family,” they had mopped the floor with the other artists that night. You can only imagine my anticipation for Saturday night for Chic. This anticipation only intensified on the jumbotron screen when they showed clips on the artists for Saturday and when Chic came on the crowd roared.

    On Saturday it was a different story. Maybe because Chic was the headliner and they were last meaning coming on well past 10 pm; the audience just died. The full sound I expected from the album was not there. I cannot even recall the song list (though I snuck a cassette tape in and taped the performances, still have it somewhere). By the time they got to Good Times people were leaving in droves. I think what did it for me was the mashup of Good Times and Rapper Delight, a hit the previous fall. I believe Bernard was doing the rapping. I was stunned and done.

    I had not seen them live ever since and of course the hits quickly stopped. I don’t believe they even toured after 1980. At least in the states. I always wondered what was missing that night, maybe it was the cavernous stadium–though Sister Sledge and other acts did well or perhaps the placement as a headliner. I am grateful that I was able to witness my favorite and iconic group live. I have since read reviews of Chic at the Kool Jazz Festival and they are quite favorable. I am not sure What occurred that night of June 1980.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this memory, even if it wasn’t so flattering to our favorite band. I might have been disappointed too had I been so fortunate to see them then. Although I wasn’t thrilled with their 2017 show, I still consider myself fortunate to have seen a version of them that included the legendary Nile Rodgers.

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