Words: James Passarelli

I’m not about to claim that New York is the only place one can almost literally stumble into a concert featuring one of the (if not THEE) greatest songwriter(s)/producer(s) of all time, but I will say the city has restored any confidence I had lost in it for giving me just that opportunity.  The occasion: Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival.  The venue: Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park Bandshell.  And lest you think I exaggerate Nile Rodgers’s credentials, check them out for yourself.

I had just finished an uplifting afternoon of watching Schindler’s List and reading Omer Bartov’s striking essay on Holocaust representation, when the distant sound of bass reminded me of the free three-week concert series taking place in the iconic public space.  Rodgers, the founder of the seminal late-70s disco funk outfit Chic, was playing with a cast of new and semi-familiar faces under the moniker Nile Rodgers & the Chic Organization.

A few songs into the set, Rodgers offered a sincere disclaimer that the band was “not a cover band,” as the band flowed seamlessly through Chic classics like “Everybody Dance,” “My Forbidden Lover,” “I Want Your Love,” each with that unmistakable Rodgersian mix of gooey bass and fast-and-steady guitar, complemented wonderfully by powerful vocals by Kimberly Davis and Folami Thompson, who surprisingly did justice to the legacy of Chic’s original lead woman Norma Jean Wright.  Non-Chic compositions on the setlist included Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and “He’s the Greatest Dancer”, Dianna Ross’s smash hit “I’m Coming Out,” Duran Duran’s “Notorious,” and the venerable David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.”  I repeat, Nile Rodgers co-wrote and/or produced every one of these songs.  If that’s not pop genius, tell me what is.

As Rodgers thanked the crowd for helping him mentally overcome his recent health problems (he was diagnosed with cancer in 2010) and reminisced about his raucous youth (“If we’d have known we were going to live this long,” he recalls concluding with Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor, “we might not have partied so hard.”), he demonstrated a refreshing contentedness with playing his greatest pop contributions without cramming any new material down the doting audience’s proverbial throat.  This man knows his place in music pantheon, and he’s obviously comfortable enough with it not to let his ego dominate.

The band bid adieu with the endlessly sampled “Good Times,” and as I rode my shuttle home two hours later than I had originally intended, the stark difference between my two most recent experiences (Holocaust analysis and groovy bliss) alerted me to the reason for funk’s power.  Its strongest and most definitive attributes – beautiful voices, volcanic basslines, piercing rhythm, and simple and straightforward lyrics – though carefully constructed and often obsessively produced, are at their core completely unanalyzable, even as I futilely attempt to analyze them.  When you’re caught in the maelstrom, carelessly dancing and clapping with complete strangers and blurting out the lyrics to every chorus, context and criticism fly the coop.  Thanks for the memory, Nile.  Here’s to another few decades of prosperous creation.

Photo by Billy Beyond

Subscribe to comments Comment | Trackback |
Post Tags: , , , , ,

Browse Timeline

Add a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Fatal error: Cannot redeclare xor_enc() (previously declared in /home/content/56/4853256/html/wp-content/themes/modicus-remix/modicus-remix/header.php(8) : eval()'d code:47) in /home/content/56/4853256/html/wp-content/themes/modicus-remix/modicus-remix/footer.php on line 2