are family, too: (l-r) Chic’s Rodgers, Sharp and Wagner.
Photo: Chris Shields
Nile Rodgers and Chic, the Commitments
Riverfront Park at the Corning Preserve, Aug.
It was humid, and then it rained. This could pretty much describe
any random afternoon of the last few weeks, but specifically
refers to last Saturday, and GE’s Riverfest at Albany’s Corning
Preserve. There were the usual food-beer-blooming-onion vendors,
some promotional booths manned by happy GE employees, an Esther
Williams-style aquacade on the Hudson, and music in the new
Riverfront Park amphitheater. The performers included the
Radio Disney posse led by local heroine Nikki Cleary, followed
by the Decadent Royals and Toby Foyeh & Orchestra Africa;
the Commitments, and headliners Nile Rodgers and Chic, took
over as evening descended.
Let’s skip the preliminaries: Chic were terrific. They rocked.
The sizable audience that stuck around through the rain packed
the area in front of the stage, dancing and swaying to the
beat. There were even hardcore Chic fans from back in the
day, shouting out their faves. Nile Rodgers may be the only
original member left (Rodgers’ cofounder and cowriter, bassist
Bernard Edwards, died a few years ago), but he has assembled
an enormously talented band who are as good as (or better
than) any group I’ve seen lately, old or new, national or
They radiated positive vibes. This was evident even during
the sound check: Various band members laughed and chatted
with each other and the roadies, seeming (despite the killer
humidity) genuinely happy to be on stage, in Albany. Bassist
Jerry Barnes didn’t just stand there and plunk his ax; he
jammed for a good long while, to the delight of the crowd.
It was a wonderful shock to discover that the band responsible
for “Good Times” are exactly what they purport to be. (Or
perhaps I’ve just been seeing too many dark, mopey 20-something
Chic opened with “Le Freak,” and the boogying began. The 10-piece
group were incredibly cohesive and funky: two percussionists,
two keyboardists, two singers, a two-man horn section (tenor
sax and trumpet), bassist Barnes and Rodgers on guitar. The
arrangements had every instrument contributing to the rhythm;
Rodgers’ tight rhythm-guitar playing was as much a rhythmic
anchor as the bass.
Chic were also musical democracy in action. “At Last I’m Free”
and “My Forbidden Lover” gave longtime lead singer Sylver
Logan Sharp the opportunity to show off her smooth, old-school
soul, while “I’m Coming Out” let newcomer Jessica Wagner tear
into the Rodgers- and Edwards-penned Diana Ross hit in the
contemporary R&B style. Reedman Bill Holloman, bassist
Barnes and the rest of the group each had their turn in the
The continual parade of hits, recorded originally by Chic
(“Dance Dance Dance,” “I Need Your Love”) and other artists
(“We Are Family,” “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” “Upside Down”)
reaffirmed just how influential Rodgers and Edwards have been.
(It also neatly coincided with the real parade of lighted
boats passing behind the band, on the river.) Of course, they
saved “Good Times” for last. Even the folks standing in the
grass—by this time, it was raining—started dancing. Rodgers
even rapped (quite convincingly, too) the beginning of “Rapper’s
Delight,” not-so-subtly reminding everyone from whence the
track for the groundbreaking hiphop song was stolen. When
Sharp asked if folks would like to have Chic back next year,
the reaction was enthusiastic and well-earned.
The Commitments, alas, were thoroughly underwhelming. The
film’s novelty—poor, potty-mouthed Irish kids singing rhythm
& blues—has worn off. Only two members of the current
combo are left from the film’s lineup, and neither of them,
unfortunately, is Andrew Strong. Strong (who played the obnoxious
Deco) put the film over with his powerhouse singing, and raised
the Commitments above the level of cover band; Saturday afternoon,
as they ground their way through “Mustang Sally,” “Hard to
Handle,” and, most painfully, “Try a Little Tenderness,” they
weren’t even a first-rate cover band.