Graham Reid | | 4 min read
Either way, they played the Beatles' career chronologically and after a couple of songs – probably She Loves You and Can't Buy Me Love – my son said in a stage whisper, “Play something we all know!”
Well, we laughed.
When I was a serious reviewer for the Herald – about 25 years of late nights, overnight review written and back at the desk by 9am – I made a point of being very familiar with the music of any artist I was seeing.
That seemed respectful to them and professional on my part.
In recent years however I've happily gone to gigs in a private capacity and not been familiar with much, if anything, by the artists.
It means you just take on the show, the performance and the songs as you find them, not because you are a fan or had your first kiss to a particular song.
It's been enlightening to not have that attachment.
I knew little of Taylor Swift's music but loved the arena show I saw, the engagement with her audience and a catalogue of hook-filled, memorable songs.
I couldn't say the same for Beyonce whose show was mostly artifice and more fashion than passion. We watched videos while she did costume changes.
Her fans loved it though.
The Nile Rodgers/Chic show at the Civic was never going to offer the unfamiliar.
It was announced as a kind of Rodgers' greatest Chic hits and collaborations so expectation from the capacity crowd which filled the place at 8pm was high.
It would be fair to observe from the number of people – visibly older than their clubbing days, and seated – who got on their phones to Facebook, check emails, send messages or show their friends some recent family photos that a characterless middle-aged DJ on stage for an hour was not of any interest at all, no matter how adept he was at spinning Philly soul, disco, funk and whatever.
Still, it set a low bar and made the thought of Rodgers/Chic finally coming on to the very minimal stage setting all the more anticipated.
And when they did there was no messing about, they went straight into an alphabet of classic dance-pop which Rodgers has written or collaborated on: not in this order but great hits by Bowie, Beyonce, Chic, Duran Duran, Madonna, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge . . .
You might have quipped, “play something we don't know”.
This was a potted history of good times from the Seventies to the new millennium with Rodgers' distinctive guitar sound and dance groove holding it all down.
For a man who rarely sings and is mostly regarded as a producer, arranger, collaborator and songwriter, Rodgers is more than a music star.
He's a contemporary icon and was was the subject for the winner of the 2020 British television show Portrait Artist of The Year. His image now hangs in the Royal Albert Hall.
Between the hits Rodgers offered anecdotes: the songs or albums which had won Grammys; how he worked with Madonna and advised her that Material Girl should be the first single off the album (she went with Like a Virgin); the two bouts of cancer; how every artist he worked with had the biggest hits of their career with him (not entirely true) and so on.
Yet this never sounded self-aggrandising because he managed a degree of humility and humour.
It was a slick show with a superb band: two keyboard players, two women singers, two horns, a drummer and a very popular bassist who took funky solos.
The lighting and choreography was minimal – unless you count the bassist and Rodgers sometimes walking to the lip of the stage as choreography – and the night was won by the soaring soul power of one singer who ripped the roof off in displays of vocal callisthenics which began in the church and headed for the heavens.
But – despite it being odd hearing Modern Love and Let's Dance without Bowie's vocals, although their version of Duran Duran's Notorious was pure Chic – the music was the winner on the night.
It was 90 minutes of hit after hit, the interchangeability of “these are the good times” and “I got all my sisters with me”, anecdotes and people up and dancing.
Couldn't ask for anything more.
Other than more.
I suspect many who left with Good Times ringing in their ears had it on their lips the following day.
The woman next to me said she'd see it again tomorrow night if she could.
I said it would be exactly the same show, same jokes, same stories, same cheerleading drummer leading us through a call-and-response of Rodgers' “maximum funkisity”.
Yeah, she laughed enthusiastically.
She didn't want something she didn't know. Nor did I.
Good times indeed.
Nile Rodgers and Chic. Civic Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand. October 18 2023