Nile Rodgers performs at Capital One Arena in DC on Aug. 9, 2017. (Photo by David LaMason)
With a smile on his face and a guitar in his hands, Nile Rodgers strode onto stage at the newly renamed Capital One Arena on a double bill with Earth, Wind & Fire on Wednesday to give us the gift of dance.
This terrific man and gifted musician long has been a favorite of mine. I could first name him as a boy as the producer of Madonna’s Like a Virgin and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, and then I cracked open some of his work as CHIC in time for him to produce Duran Duran’s Notorious. It all fit together like fantastic puzzle pieces on a big board of dance music.
“Let’s Dance” is a remarkable song that Nile can rank high among his achievements, and his CHIC collective covered the song in concert with gregarious drummer Ralph Rolle taking lead vocals. Ralph’s big booming voice emphasized the blues in the sultry song. I rather think the powerful rendition, with Curt Ramm on trumpet and Bill Holloman on sax punctuating the jazzy melodies of the song’s refrain, would have made Bowie smile.
Nile and CHIC brought “Let’s Dance” to life within a string of covers that highlighted Nile’s work across the years. To a crowd still filing into Capital One Arena, Nile recounted how his cancer diagnosis in 2010 inspired him to make as much music with as many collaborators as he possibly could before the disease killed him. (Thankfully, Nile recovered with his cancer in remission within a few years!) During that time, Nile worked with Daft Punk on their seminal album Random Access Memories and the incandescent song “Get Lucky” was born.
CHIC vocalist Kimberly Davis sang “Get Lucky” on Wednesday, and apologies to Pharrell Williams, but I would listen to Kimberly’s version any day. Kim made the song smolder as she eased into it. By the time she arrived at the middle of the song, it has burst into full-throttled glory, blazing like the phoenix referenced in its opening lyric.
And let’s not forget the guitar — that splendid guitar! Nile’s famous Fender Stratocaster remained strapped to him gracefully as an extension of his own body. He played guitar as easily as he drew a breath, and it gave off the most inimitable sound in response to his touch. There is wonder in hearing his chords come together as a melody and finding that melody just as infectious, if not more, than the last.
CHIC of course pay homage to the classics written by Nile and the late, great Bernard Edwards in the late ‘70s with songs such as “Le Freak” from the 1978 album C’est Chic and “Good Times” from 1979’s Risqué. These disco hits are genre-defining anthems that represent not only a type of music but indeed an entire era. The modern CHIC band gave them fresh life, and CHIC’s other leading vocalist Folami Ankoanda sang in perfect stereo with Kim. Folami’s smile was always bright, and she radiated such sheer joy that it was impossible not to sing along.
I was pleasantly surprised at the end of the show when Nile himself tackled “Rapper’s Delight!” Well, he sang it pretty well, and I chuckled when he tweaked a lyric to “We are CHIC, and we would like to say hello.” It was a fun way to close the show.
CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers is scheduled to resume touring Aug. 15 in Indianapolis along with Earth, Wind & Fire on the 2054 Tour. But Nile was hospitalized in Toronto on Aug. 13, so the show might be up in the air at the moment? CHIC are slated to continue on the bill through Aug. 22 in Detroit. You absolutely must see the master, Nile Rodgers, at work on stage if you haven’t seen him to date — it is truly an imperative. You’ll not only dance your way through the entire set but you’ll shuffle to the unforgettable beats of CHIC stuck in your head for the rest of your night – a wholly happy experience.
Nile and CHIC are working on a new album, which could materialize later this year. So I for one am planning to enjoy his music yet for many years to come! Here are some pictures of CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers performing at Capital One Arena on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.