Chic featuring Nile Rodgers took the stage last night on a freakishly warm February Friday at the Paramount Theatre. Maybe it was the members of Chic themselves who brought the heat to Denver, as they marched audiences through a showing of some of the twentieth century’s hottest jams, starting with Chic’s second-ever single, "Everybody Dance," from their 1977 debut album of the same name. Now, nearly forty years after that release, Rodgers is the only original member still performing, and last night’s performance focused both on Chic’s output and on the independent work Rodgers has done collaborating as a producer and songwriter with some of the biggest names in pop music.
So while audiences got to hear Chic’s biggest hits — culminating, of course, with "Le Freak" and "Good Times" — they were also treated to the band’s renditions of songs such as "I’m Coming Out," by Diana Ross, "Let’s Dance," by David Bowie, and "Like a Virgin," by Madonna, to name a few. Seeing Chic live, one learns just what an astounding force in pop music Nile Rodgers is. At one point Rodgers chastised a front-row audience member for making a request — but it seemed as though one could have named any song and Rodgers would’ve had a say in its production. Other covers included "We Are Family," by Sister Sledge, "Get Lucky," by Daft Punk and Pharrell, and "Lady (Hear Me Tonight)," by Modjo.
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The focus on Rodgers's other projects, while edifying, at times created the impression that Chic is the Most Powerful Cover Band in the Universe. Rodgers said he likes to give the “Chic treatment” to his other songs, and this both worked and didn’t, depending on the tune. "Let’s Dance," for example, sung by drummer Ralph Rolle, was surprisingly powerful. A very faithful rendition of the song gave way, at times, to an almost D.C. go-go feel, with Rolle compelling the audiences to “jump!” in old-school hip-hop fashion — an order that they obeyed. On the other hand, "Like a Virgin," in reverting to Chic’s disco optimism, lacked the verve and irony of Madonna’s original.
The most powerful cover was "Get Lucky," by Daft Punk, mostly because of Rodgers's preamble. It was, according to him, the first song he wrote after being diagnosed with “extremely aggressive cancer” in 2011. His response to this diagnosis was to focus ever more diligently on his music. He announced that as of 2013, he was cancer-free, which was met by cheers from the crowd. Introduced with an emotional vocal solo by Kim Davis – who shone throughout the evening – the cover highlighted a more nuanced sense of freedom and well-being that can make disco so effective. “Getting lucky” doesn’t just have to refer to getting lucky at the club, but in life, as well.
The band capped the evening with its 1979 song "Good Times," the bass line of which is a veritable institution in and of itself — having spurred this song, this one, this one and this one, among others. As Rodgers himself said, “If Chic is about one thing, it’s the bass.” Indeed. Chic’s original bassist, Bernard Edwards, churned out some of the most melodic and punchy bass lines in dance music – complex but never inaccessible. That’s why, at certain points in the night’s show, it was disappointing to not be able to really hear current bassist Jerry Barnes's own contributions, mostly because of sound-quality issues on stage. But acoustics aside, "Good Times" lived up to its name, as Rodgers invited a few dozen audience members onto the stage to get down, which they did, dancing alongside one of the most important figures in modern popular music.