Chic - Mandela Hall, Belfast
Mandela Hall, Belfast
Wednesday August 1st
Expectation was sky high, irritatingly so. Whether you've waited thirty odd years since Nile Rodgers started releasing music with his partner Bernard Edwards under the name 'Chic' or three years after seeing (or hearing about) a legendary, break through Electirc Picnic performance, the general consensus was: tonight shall be the gig of the year. Decade, even. And too much excitement is a bad thing, of course. That feeling of anti-climax - it's can be a real killer.
Yet here we are, losing our minds on a Wednesday night, creating the type of appreciative din you hear at a mere handful of shows every lifetime. It's astonishing, really - every song is glorious, every solo a treat, every single second unmissable. That opening trio, for a start - 'Everybody Dance', 'Dance Dance Dance' and 'I Want Your Love'. Barely fifteen minutes into the set, it's already incredible. Nile Rodgers reminds us Chic are not a cover band - these tracks he helped create, performing on the originals, writing those wonderful hooks. And so follows 'I'm Coming Out' and 'Upside Down'. This isn't a greatest hits of Chic, it's a greatest hits of….music.
'He's the Greatest Dancer' comes with a cheeky nod to Will Smith, while 'Soup for One' is performed as Modjo's 'Lady'. And why not? 'Like a Virgin' is more authentic than Madonna will ever manage these days while a trippy take on 'Spacer', originally written for Sheila & B. Devotion, is as close as they get to obscurity.
The musicianship is a joy to behold. Folami Thompson and Kimberley Davis are captivating and gorgeous vocalists, giving credit to a number of legends while doing their own thing. The bassist, a guy called Jerry Barnes, is like nothing we've seen before - that wonderful mix of holding back when less is more and some of the finest, ludicrously OTT bass solos ever performed on a Belfast stage. Ditto Ralph 'Buscuit' Rolle, who takes the lead from behind the kit for yet another standout - 'Lets Dance'.
At this point we've completely forgotten ourselves. These songs, already awesome of course, are coming to life in more ways than one. There's something very, very special about hearing them performed by the man who gave us them in the first place. Yes the people onstage are as accomplished a collection of musicians you'll see in a band, but tonight these songs still feel a tiny bit loose, properly unleashed.
For 'Thinking of You' the room becomes a mass of couples, as we hold each other up and belt out those wonderfully sweet lyrics. A few moments later and Nile is milking the introduction to 'Le Freak' with a grin to match our own. The stage is rushed for 'Good Times', the perfect conclusion. Nile is doing his best Sugarhill Gang impersonation, losing it a bit himself. 1,000 ridiculously happy faces, a mixture of the fresh faced and seasoned loving every joyous moment. The band take it in and leave the stage. Nile can't bring himself to follow, riffing away and encouraging random singsongs before simply coming down to say hello.
Judging by Nile's own twitter feed in the days building up to this show and what he'd said at a pre-show Q&A, the anticipation was pretty high at his end as well. As the show progressed it became pretty obvious he was thinking the same as us. There will be no anti-climax tonight. Those foolish sky high expectations - for once, they weren't high enough.
Pics: Tony Irvine Photography