The collaborative tour finds two of the '70s greatest R&B / dance acts teaming up on a single ticket for a memorable evening of old-school funk ‘n’ soul.
It didn’t matter to fans that neither band has issued new studio material in years. What mattered most on this occasion was nuance and nostalgia: People wanted to hear all the hits they remember from their teens and young adulthood, and wanted to hear them recreated as authentically as humanly possible by the now-older surviving musicians.
Both EWF and Chic delivered on all counts, submitting two sets of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-worthy funk that got spectators out of their seats and kept ‘em on their feet for three solid hours.
Still fronted by recent Rock Hall inductee Nile Rodgers, Chic opened with a kinetic marathon of hip-shaking selections centered ‘round Rodgers’ famous rhythm guitar technique. Muting the strings with his palm between authoritative up / down pick strokes, Rodgers creates a unique locomotive chug that—when combined with sturdy bass lines and backbeats—practically compels body movement.
Rodgers is just as renowned for his production work as for his guitar chops: The 64-year-old New York native boasts writing/production credits for such diverse acts as Madonna, Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, Brian Ferry, INXS, Pitbull, Lady Gaga and even EWF’s Philip Bailey.
Heading up a revamped 2000s version of his old group, Rodgers rolled out some of his collaborator/producer hits. After rollicking runs through Chic songs “Everybody Dance,” “Dance Dance Dance (Yowsah!),” and “I Want Your Love,” the band dove headfirst into a Diana Ross medley that sandwiched the 1980 chart smashes “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down” into a single super-jam.
Up next was a teaser of Will Smith's rap hit “Getting’ Jiggy With It” and a mashup of Sister Sledge goodies “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and “We Are Family.”
Rodgers doesn’t tour often with Chic, having recommitted himself to songwriting, arranging and production after a battle with prostate cancer.
“My doctor told me to get my affairs in order,” Niles stated. “It was that bad.”
Fortunately, Rodgers overcame the illness and entered the most prolific phase of his career. Fruits from that work included the delectable Daft Punk / Pharrell Williams hit “Get Lucky,” which Nile and company offered for reappraisal. Then it was back in time again for David Bowie’s “Let Dance,” which Rodgers co-wrote to help update the Thin White Duke’s sound for the ‘80s.
The tweaked Chic counts Jerry Barnes on bass, Ralph Rolle on drums and Russell Graham / Richard Hilton on keys. Singers Folami Ankoanda and Kimberly Davis (wearing billowy orange and yellow dresses) nailed all the powerhouse vocals recorded by Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin on the classic albums Chic, C’Est Chic, and Risque (1977-79). The Chic horn players were Bill Holloman (sax) and Curt Ramm (trumpet).
Rodgers wrapped things up (and tied it with a bright bow) with Chic anthems “Le Freak” and “Good Times” (circa 1978-79). Nile even interpolated a bit of “Rapper’s Delight” into the latter tune, since the Sugarhill Gang track sampled heavily from it to create the pioneering hip-hop track.
Now boasting as many members as a football team (11), Earth, Wind & Fire took to “The Q” stage following a quick-but-cool big screen video about how “the elements” arrived on Earth to heal with the power of music.
Making good on that premise, longstanding EWF vets Philip Bailey (vocals), Ralph Johnson (vocals, percussion), and Verdine White (bass) led their younger compatriots through a 90-minute set that centered on the group’s mid / late-70’s output (from 1974’s Open Our Eyes through 1978’s Best Of).
EWF founder Maurice White passed away last year. Verdine’s big brother was memorialized in images that flickered on the LED display overlooking the stage.
“Shining Star,” “Getaway,” and “Sing a Song” found the EWF cast (who sported complementary black and sparkly silver outfits) dancing and singing together, with Bailey and Johnson handling the brunt of the lead vocals. Understudies Philip Bailey, Jr. and B. David Whitworth acquitted themselves marvelously on those exquisite EWF background vocals and harmonies of old—but each man had a chance to sing lead, too.
Johnson and Whitworth also dabbled on percussion, augmenting drummer John Paris’ big beats with extra congas and chimes during “On Your Face” and “Serpentine Fire.” The elder Bailey came front-and-center to perform “Kalimba Story” on one of the song’s namesake handheld thumb pianos, whose notes pinged and peeled as if created by tiny bells.
But then it was back to the dance-a-thon, courtesy Verdine White. Always the flashiest member of the band, the bassist was a perpetual motion machine and shuffled to and fro without ever seeming to miss a thumb-slap or finger-pluck on his four-string. “Can’t Hide Love,” “Head to the Sky,” “Devotion” and “That’s the Way of the World” bounced over White’s groove, each song supplemented by the brass stylings of the EWF horn section (Robert Burns, Reggie Young, Gary Bias).
Morris O’Connor crackled on a green electric guitar. Myron McKinley sprinkled “After the Love Has Gone” with soulful keyboards. Bailey’s ear-piercing, hair-raising high notes on “Reasons” recalled those achieved on his “Easy Lover” duet with Phil Collins. “September” had fans dancing at their seats and in the aisles…and singing along to the nonsensical (but sensational) lyrics Ba de ya - say do you remember /ba de ya - dancing in September / ba de ya there never was a cloudy day
1981’s “Let’s Groove” was the most recent cut in the set list (which goes to show just how old-school the 2054 affair is), and made for an electrifying finale. EWF could’ve called it quits there and left the stage like heroes, but Bailey, Johnson, White and the gang returned for a smoldering “Fantasy” encore and “In the Stone” send-off.