Chic At Madison Square Garden, Monday, August 7th, 2017, Reviewed
All dance music, but disco dance music, is the most utilitarian form of music ever created: it is like a lawnmower or a toaster, it has a function and that function is its function: to get people dancing. Chic at Madison Square Garden last night performed their function and while they had the energy and the smarts for disco, they still seemed perfunctory. As though everything they were doing was a facsimile of past greatness, with Bernard Edwards not merely dead but dead twenty years , and Alfa Anderson, Luci Martin, and Norma Jean Wright, the original Chic singers, no longer wanted, Niles Rodgers used the hour long set to remind us that he hadn’t died of cancer six years ago, an illness so dire the doctors told Niles to get his things in order. “You know how that goes,” he nodded to us. And used his time for one more thing, to get us to dance, and we did dance but any good disco band can do it and Chic was not any old disco band, they were one of the greats: they were the disco band as rock band, as important even though manifestos like “Dance dance dance” were scaled into limitations. Chic at MSG were the ultimate Chic cover band.
Since 2011, Niles Rodgers has dusted off the catalog, contributed to one of the biggest songs in his career, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and has been playing just about non stop with a steady band of pros, Jerry Barnes who can slap like a student of Larry Graham, drummer Ralph Rolle who took lead on “Get happy,” and Kimberly Davis who can ululate like Mary J. Blige and helped Niles go house on “My Fire” earlier this year. These are all seasoned pros but not seasoned greats, they give their own but there is something missing. It is as pure a pleasure as disco ever is but it isn’t anything else, it has its uses but in the end it is a nostalgia act.
Still, what a nostalgia act, from the one two opener “Everybody Dance” and “Dance Dance Dance” through the mid-set Diana Ross hits, the Bowie masterwork through an extended work out to the modern sound of electronica and culminating in “Le Freak” and “Good Times” which lead to “Rapper’s delight” –you probably remember that Fab Five Freddy free-styled over “Good Times” to introduce one of the first big rap songs. This is some of the greatest dance music ever, and Niles is the narcissist par excellence who can’t be bothered to give props to Bernard Edwards –it’s the bass line Fab Five Freddy was rapping over, of course it was. And while Niles owns “Let’s Dance,” he didn’t own “I’m Coming Out” –yet another place where Chic lead rap ever forward.
While the audience is moving it just reminds you that while Earth Wind And Fire, who were headlining, were performing tributes to Maurice White last night, Chic were burying the past in a fake nostalgia. It was fun and depressing; there is something unseemly about Rodger’s self-regard, as unseemly as the clichéd calls to “make some noise”. Where did that call come from and can everybody stop saying it. Much like the encore they are all stale audience manipulations.
Chic deserve to be better, you could imagine Chic as an ultimate disco funk jam band and what they are is a nostalgia driven band with a great set of songs to play. They look the part but there is a step missing. They are useful but they don’t have enough value.