Just over 24 hours before appearing at Cardiff Castle with his band, Chic, Nile Rodgers took to Twitter to ask followers for the best local routes for a pre-gig power walk.
It’s probably this desire to stay active and his unabashed zest for life that means, at 66 years old, he clearly has every intention of taking his five-decade career into a sixth.
Although, having been recommended Bute Park and the Cardiff Bay as beautiful places to walk, he was later spotted striding across The Hayes. Perhaps his impeccable judgment doesn’t extend outside of the sphere of music production.
Rodgers has written, produced, and performed on records that have cumulatively sold more than 500 million albums and 75 million singles worldwide.
He’s worked with everyone from Pharrell Williams and Madonna to David Bowie and Diana Ross. Tonight, in a 90-minute set too short to fit all the hits into, he takes us on a whistle-stop tour of his astonishing back catalogue. With a tight-as-hell band of world-class musicians all bedecked in pure white, they take us through countless foot-stomping, hand-clapping, singalong funk, disco and R&B hits.
It must be hard work being Nile Rodgers and writing a set list. I mean, what do you leave out? Seamless medleys are a crafty way of packing in as many bangers as possible, and although I overhear someone in the crowd say something about “Jive Bunny”, it’s testament to his astonishing back catalogue that he has to employ this hit-record-machine-gun technique.
And what a catalogue it is. He whizzes through hits by Madonna (Like a Virgin and Material Girl, much to the delight of your correspondent, a proud founding member of the Pontypool branch of the Madonna fan club in 1991), Sister Sledge, David Bowie and Diana Ross. At one point, I turned to my companion and exclaimed it to be the best wedding disco either of us will ever attend.
From the shimmering Chic Cheer intro to 70s disco anthems Dance, Dance, Dance and I Want Your Love, as the scorching sun sinks behind Cardiff Castle – and with plenty of lurex and shimmer around – squint, and you could be in Studio 54. Almost.
Of course, it was being refused entry to the hallowed NYC disco hotspot one new year’s eve that inspired Le Freak, with the crescendo of ‘AHHHH FREAK OUT’ originally written as another two-word phrase beginning with F and O.
I guess Nile had the last laugh on the meathead bouncer, huh?
One thing that strikes me as soon as I arrive at the Castle, where Norman Jay is playing a typically funk-fuelled warm-up set, is how diverse a crowd Chic attract. From young kids to pensioners, via plenty of millennials too young to remember Chic the first time around, his is an oeuvre that bridges generational divides. We Are Family indeed.
Rodgers’ ubiquitous Daft Punk collaboration Get Lucky is preceded by a heartfelt address on how grateful he is to be cancer-free, after twice beating the disease. The track is delivered as a pared-back, vocal acrobatic workout by the prodigiously talented Kimberley Davis (pictured) before the beat kicks in and the crowd goes wild.
Then, as the band performs Bowie’s Let’s Dance, some serious moonlight hovers mystically over the stage; a beautiful moment. It’s all over too soon of course, but it’s a universally beaming crowd that floods out of the castle and into our capital city’s finest hostelries and dancefloors (or in my case, into a wrong turn on the route home – such is my post-gig HIGH).
Bravo to The Depot for bringing such a world-class act to the beautiful setting of Cardiff Castle on what turned out to be the perfect night for it.
More of this sort of thing, please!