Nile Rodgers starts his concerts with a disclaimer, and Friday night’s one-off headlining set from Chic was no exception.
“I know they have seats here, but we play dance music,” Rodgers, 66, told Mahaffey Theater. “If you feel the need to, then get up and dance… and don’t worry about the person behind you — that just means they gotta get up and dance, too.”
Rodgers — draped in an emerald, sequined jacket with shoes to match — immediately locked into a groove on set opener “Everybody Dance” and seemed to have his St. Petersburg audience settled into the rhythm by the show’s second song (“Dance, Dance, Dance — Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah”). That iconic Stratocaster chuck and the power of a band that’s been playing arenas opening for Cher was undeniable by the time saxophonist Brandon Wright took his first solo on the next tune, “I Want Your Love.”
Fans looking for deep cuts from Rodgers’ extensive list of credits would admittedly do better to spend a weekend at home with their vinyl, but there was no way that folks looking for a show featuring hit, after hit, after hit could leave disappointed after a 100-minute set that touched 25 of the most iconic songs in music history. The joyous declaration of Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” still holds up 39 years after its release, and hearing it blended into medley with “Upside Down” and the plucked intro of Sister Sledge’s “He’s the Greatest Dancer” was definitely worth dancing to.
Tired feet, however, would eventually catch up with a crowd where many were seated by the time vocalist Kimberly Davis (who worked as a supervisor for the city of Queens until friend and Chic drummer and hype man Ralph Rolle convinced her to audition eight years ago) launched into a long, solo bridge on “We Are Family.” Most fans stayed seated through a horn-free take on Madonna’s 1984 hit “Like A Virgin” and also opted to stay subdued while Rodgers chucked his way through Sister Sledge hit “Lost In Music.” Rodgers eventually got them back on their feet after dropping Duran Duran dance floor gem “Notorious,” and Mahaffey would stay standing through more Sledge (“Thinking Of You”) and Chic, too (“My Feet Keep Dancing”).
Before playing “Get Lucky,” Rodgers described his 2017 kidney cancer diagnosis and the message he got from doctors who were grim about the prospects for a man who also beat prostate cancer in 2010.
“They told me to contemplate the rest of my life,” Rodgers explained, defiantly.
“So I said I’m gonna write more songs than I ever have in my life. I’m gonna play more live shows than I ever have in my life, and I’m gonna do more collaborations than I ever have in my life.”
Reminders of the fact that life beats people up were tucked subtly into the show. It was eerie to hear the delayed guitar passage of the late David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” in real life. To a relatively healthy 33-year-old, watching folks sit through some of the greatest disco and funk hits in the history of music was disappointing for just an inkling of a second. But then you remember that the everyday battles of the average person have left so many of us feeling like we’re just too busy working, and dying slowly, to live at all.
And that’s where the Chic catalog comes in to remind you of how a simple riff can be revolutionary and how a commitment to bring joy to the thing that you do can change the lives of even the most desperate people. After “Le Freak,” Rodgers told the crowd that a fan had brought an original copy an early Chic single to the pre-show meet and greet. Rodgers mentioned how famed Studio 54 engineer Tom Savarese was listed as the man behind the mix. In truth, Savarese did an edit that the band never used, but Chic left his name on there anyway, knowing that radio DJs would play the song because of the affiliation.
The move worked, and it opened the door for Rodgers and his late Chic songwriting partner Bernard Edwards to — quite literally — write the music the world will be dancing to for the rest of history. You could almost imagine the sweat dripping off of the Studio 54 faithful’s faces as they danced to “Le Freak,” and as Rodgers masterfully maneuvered his way around the fretboard it was hard not to appreciate the way he’s survived and remained committed to spreading his own joy.
It’s true, almost everyone took a seat at some point of Friday night’s show. There really are moments when you just don’t have the strength to party. So much of humanity sadly involves feeling too busy dying to live. Thank your lucky stars for Nile Rodgers and Chic, however, because without them and the cast of musicians they collaborated with, our parties would sound drastically different and dull.
Rodgers has undoubtedly written the soundtrack for the best of our times, and his songs have helped us all through some bad days and nights too. And that, without question, is worth standing up for.
Dance, Dance, Dance — Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah
I Want Your Love
I’m Coming Out (Diana Ross)> Upside Down (Diana Ross)> He’s the Greatest Dancer (Sister Sledge)
We Are Family (Sister Sledge)
Like A Virgin (Madonna)
Lost In Music (Sister Sledge)
Notorious (Duran Duran)
Thinking Of You (Sister Sledge)
My Feet Keep Dancing
Get Lucky (Daft Punk)
Chic Cheer > My Forbidden Lover
Let’s Dance (David Bowie)