What is there left to say about the walking hit machine that is Nile Rodgers? Some people have had a big influence on the music that’s come after them, but even that is under selling his contribution. Nile Rodgers hasn’t just influenced the sound of modern music, he basically IS the sound of modern music.
This gig is part of Radio 2’s part in the celebration of the creation of Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 and they’ve booked five acts over a couple of weeks to represent each of those five decades. With the possible exception of Deep Purple, drafted in to be the 60s act, they needn’t have bothered. Nile and ‘The Chic Organisation’ as he calls them, have had a hand in massive hit records from the era of funk and disco right up to Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ and everything in between.
So, for instance, when he tells the lucky 400 attendees – particularly lucky given there were 16,000 applications - that he’s put together “a quick medley” of his number one singles he’s written for other acts, you can expect it to last more than half an hour and certainly contain a few tracks, like Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’ or ‘Notorious’ by Duran Duran, that you probably had no clue he’d ever been involved with.
The back catalogue of Chic is mighty enough in its own right, though, from the opening ‘Everybody Dance’ – inevitably, everybody does - to an extended version of ‘Good Times’ that ends the evening, incorporating parts of the first ever hip-hop record which borrowed so heavily from it, The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’. That’s no surprise, but what is to a first timer like this reviewer, is watching Rodgers in action. He’s not a flashy lead vocalist, mainly taking to the mic as part of the nine-strong band, with the powerful wail of singer Kimberly Davis tending to take the aural spotlight most of the time. Neither is he a Prince-style six string show off – in fact, the first time he takes a proper solo is during the astounding rendition of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, well over an hour into the set.
He’s more like an old skool band leader- the Duke Ellington of funk, if you like – who uses his white Fender Strat for an unstoppable stream of infectious licks and riffs which seamlessly slotting into the core rhythmic juggernaut of drummer Ralph Rolle and the wriggling basslines of Jerry Barnes. He directs the two keyboard players and brass sections with the subtlest of nods, but ultimately it’s the unstoppable beats from Rolle’s drumkit that everyone follows for guidance, often turning to him to lock into the grooves even more tightly.
Rodgers is the one who charms the crowd, of course, telling us he has “the best day job in the world” and that he’s “the luckiest man in the world” for evading the aggressive cancer he was diagnosed with six and a half years ago. He’s a supplier of endless good vibes, and his modest approach is rewarded by a fiercely loyal crowd who’ll do anything he says without question.
He deserves it though, partly because he’s clearly a lovely guy who still can’t quite believe Chic are now bigger than ever, but mainly because of what he’s done to invent and shape almost every aspect of pop that’s happened since the late 70s. That genius contribution simply can’t be overstated.