tue 15/10/2019

Nile Rodgers and Chic, Royal Festival Hall review – great band, shame about the sound | reviews, news & interviews

Nile Rodgers and Chic, Royal Festival Hall review – great band, shame about the sound

Nile Rodgers and Chic, Royal Festival Hall review – great band, shame about the sound

A life-affirming celebration of a brilliant career

Nile Rodgers with glittering vocalists Kimberly Davis and FolamiVictor Frankowski

There is every reason to celebrate Nile Rodgers. For his contribution to music as arranger, producer and performer over more than four decades. And also not least because he’s still around and still performing: he has, after all, pulled through after two bouts of serious cancer in 2010 and 2017. The twenty-sixth annual Meltdown Festival on the Southbank, which he is curating, seems a very good way to do him justice.

The festival started on Saturday night with him doing a fascinating talk/Q&A, followed by a 90-minute set from the current Chic line-up. These were both sessions which put the focus on Rodgers himself and his life story, and Rodgers's amiable and easy-going nature came across very well as his stories unfolded. He has such ebullience and positivity, it is easy to see where his reputation in the music industry as “a sweetheart” comes from. There were vivid recollections (and vocal imitations) of Miles Davis, Billy Idol and Madonna. Rodgers also is a great raconteur and has told many of these stories before, most fully in his 2011 autobiography Le Freak, but for Meltdown, they were dramatized, developed, maybe even a little embroidered. “I could go on telling rock’n’roll war stories all night,” he confided.

The centrepiece of this part of the evening was a section of audio, apparently being aired in public for the first time, which told the story of a career-changing moment. Rodgers had heard David Bowie’s utterly hopeless first version of “Let’s Dance”, and had asked him “Do you mind if I do an arrangement?” Claude Nobs of the Montreux Jazz Festival had recruited a funk band to play the new, Rodgers-improved “Let’s Dance” for Bowie at Queen’s Mountain Studios in Switzerland. The tape catches Bowie’s initial scepticism, then him joining in, and finishes with him telling Rodgers “That’s it, that’s great.” The credibility that Rodgers gained from that collaboration set the wheels in motion for the rest of his career. This section of the evening was deeply satisfying. After the interval, however, there would be problems.

It is now 23 years since Rodgers’s partner in Chic, bassist Bernard Edwards, died, and also a full decade since the new Chic re-formed and started touring again. So the touring package is familiar and people know exactly what to expect; there was not only much glitter on the stage but plenty among the audience too. This was a crowd which had come to get down to the funk and dance. “This was my era,” one eager participant told me beforehand. Nothing was going to spoil this party...

...except it did. What a shame that this great and constantly life-affirming show should have been marred (at least from where I sat) by such sub-standard sound. The lower frequencies seemed bedevilled by feedback from Jerry Barnes's electric bass, and there was an overpoweringly muddy sound emanating repeatedly from Russell Graham’s synths. Fine singers Kimberly Davis and Folami seemed to give the confident, smiling, thoroughly professional show that comes naturally to them, but they more or less gave up the fight to be heard, and just gracefully settled for getting lost unintelligibly in the mix. A particular irony was that when Barnes (pictured below by Victor Frankowski) stepped forward to shouts of “Jer-RY! Jer-RY!” to do a thumb-popping solo, the whole thing was completely inaudible.

One memorable moment which could be heard properly was when, towards the end of the show, Rodgers played a brief guitar solo which morphed into the unmistakable guitar riff which launches “Le Freak”. For the devotees of disco, once the party was in full swing, considerations of sound quality were irrelevant. But, surely, for a figure of this stature and a celebration of this magnitude, the basics deserve to be done a good deal better than this.

@sebscotney

Nile Rodgers is a great raconteur: 'I could go on telling rock’n’roll war stories all night'

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Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Great review! wish I could have been there to witness the great man in full flow (despite the audio glitches..)

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