The music of Chic has always worked best when propelling a sweaty mass of humanity into increasingly frenetic, funky dancing. Virtual blueprint artists for some of the most successful disco hits of all time, the pair behind the group have come to define a style, aesthetic and entire genre of music. And while Bernard Edwards’ death in 1996 put an untimely end to what had been an extremely fruitful partnership, Nile Rodgers’ continued relevance and success is a testament to that which they began together in the mid-‘70s.
Recent years have seen the group’s sound spreading across the spectrum of popular music. Thanks in large part to Daft Punk’s massively successful “Get Lucky”, Nile Rodgers’ profile has reached heights not seen since the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Fittingly then, An Evening With Chic functions as a sort of celebratory victory lap for both Rogers and the group he co-founded with the late Edwards, coming some 23 years after their last studio recording together under the Chic name.
Here the group, anchored by the inimitable Rodgers and his absurdly funky strumming hand, tear through extended renditions of some of their best-known hits for a crowd of ecstatic listeners. You can almost hear the crowd moving along to each song, a surging mass of humanity spurred on by the undeniable rhythms underscoring these myriad hits. From the opening “Everybody Dance”, through the exuberant reading of “Good Times”, An Evening With Chic aims to please.
And it largely does. The music throughout is undeniably funky party music that continues unabated for nearly the entire duration of the program. While some of the stage patter runs a little long, the playing behind it helps make up for these slack moments, none of which seem to bother those in attendance. So in control of their audience, that when a moment of silence for the late Luther Vandross is requested prior to “At Last I Am Free,” the entire crowd complies, becoming so quiet one would be forgiven thinking the album had simply stopped. They further honor their late friend with a triumphant, 12-minute reading of the soaring ballad, complete with a searing saxophone solo by original member Bill Holloman.
Similarly, “I’m Thinking Of You” begins with a touching introduction from Rodgers detailing how he and Edwards approached their mutual writing process. Given the lyrical content and Edwards’ untimely passing, the moment becomes all the more poignant and the performance reflects this accordingly. It’s a fine moment that gets to the heart of Chic’s near-universal appeal and, given the selflessness with which they approached the music (having written the song for their own group but ultimately giving it to Sister Sledge) it’s nearly impossible not to enjoy.
But the problem with all of this is that Chic has largely functioned within a studio context where their tight rhythms and harmonies come off impeccably produced, everything falling right where it should. The inherent realness of a live performance and its greater likelihood for error is then not necessarily conducive to this stylistic approach. When even the slightest bit off, the songs begin to sound like loose, sloppy jams, mere approximations of their studio counterparts.
Throughout, however, it’s clear the European audience could not possibly care less, so thrilled are they to be hearing these songs within a live context. During an extended medley of songs written for and performed by others, Chic as a band seems to struggle the most. Muffed cues and tenuous harmonies give the impression things could fall apart at any time. As is often the case with nostalgia acts, however, the audience is simply thrilled to hear songs they know and roar approvingly at the recognition of each. This response seems to help ease the band through some of the trickier passages, as if shrugging nonchalantly, acknowledging the rawness of the performance and taking it in stride.
The opening moments of “Le Freak”, perhaps their biggest hit as Chic, features Rogers teasing the iconic guitar phrase as the audience shouts out the vocal part. It’s a fine moment of a band acknowledging their undying appreciation for the fans who put them up on stage in the first place. More than anything, the album aims to please those who’ve been there through thick and thin supporting the band and its music.
At some 80 minutes, An Evening With Chic is a warts and all document of what was clearly an immeasurably enjoyable night for all those in attendance. So while it’s refreshing to hear a number of these tracks benefiting from the added energy of the live setting, there’s ultimately little to distinguish them from their superior studio counterparts in terms of overall quality. Because of this, the album ultimately plays more like a reverent cover band version of Chic than the real thing.
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