By Joann Barton
Special to The Observer
I spent Friday night, Aug. 4, going back in time once again. This time for a disco party. This wasn’t a concert — it was a celebration and a festive occasion.
Chic and the Three Elements and Earth, Wind and Fire (EWF) were the performers. Funny thing is, I don’t think I would personally go out of my way to see any of these concerts that I have enjoyed so much as of late, but thanks to the wonderful people at the Prudential Center, I have had a summer I will never forget. Thank you Pru, you know who you are.
Chic and EWF are both great bands in their own way and each has a vast history. Nile Rodgers, 64, the genius behind Chic, is more than just that. He is a producer, songwriter, musician, composer, arranger and guitarist. What does that mean? He can write his own songs without the assistance of other musicians — a truly great talent like Prince.
Rodgers has worked with so many big-name artists. He’s written mostly every funky song you have ever heard, having worked with Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, Lady Ga Ga, David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran, INXS, Mick Jagger, Grace Jones, the B-52s, Robert Plant the Honeydrippers, the Sugar Hill Gang and most recently, Daft Punk and Pharell Williams.
Rodgers is infamous for his disco, soul, R&B, rock and funk sounds. You can always tell a Rodgers song because he has a chucking rhythm guitar style and it is always in the background of all of his songs.
Chic opened the show and the moment they started playing to the moment they ended their memorable masterpieces, it was never short of exhilarating and inspiring. They sounded perfect. Lead singer Kimberly Davis, a soloist in her own rite, and her female counterpart Folami Ankoanda, sounded just like the original Chic girls — but Kimberly could wail. Not just sing but “sang.” She blew out “We Are Family” at the end with a vocal solo reminiscent of Whitney Houston.
The music was designed so that people could dance in the aisles — and believe me, we danced, from “Le Freak” (Freak Out), “I Want Your Love,” “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” “Good Times,” “Everybody Dance” and “Dance, Dance, Dance.” They then went into songs that Nile worked on with other artists, including one of my favorites, Janelle Monae, “We Are Family” (Sister Sledge), “Let’s Dance” (David Bowie) and much to my surprise, Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down.”
Every song was unreal. Perfect, note for note, along with perfect vocals. Did I mention we danced?
Rodgers founded Chic in 1976.
LeFreak (Freakout) was written and shopped around in 1978-79, but no one would play it, especially Studio 54. It actually had a different title at the time. It started with the “F” word so “Freak Out” was born. That song would start his illustrious career.
Six years ago, Rodgers found out he had terminal cancer. As he said at the time, he did nothing but write, write, write. He’s now cancer free. He looked great and we are lucky to still have this amazing talent with us. Fantastic job by Chic.
Getting ready for Earth, Wind and Fire (EWF) the roadies broke down the stage and set it up again to suit the next act. This was the first time I had ever seen someone come out and mop the stage because of sweat Chic created from performance.
EWF burst onto the stage in a well-choreographed fashion. There are only three remaining founding members in this disco, fusion, jazz, Africana, pop and stoned soul band. Philip Bailey,
66, a tenor with a five-octave range and percussionist; Ralph Johnson, 66, on drums, percussion and vocals; and cofounder Maurice White’s brother Verdine White, 66, playing bass and background vocals. Lead singer and cofounder Maurice White died in 2016 from Parkinson’s, at 74.
The entire band is made up of vocalists and percussionists. Bailey’s voice is still the same, a silky smooth high pitched tenor. If you don’t know who he is, he is the high voice on all of EWF’s songs. He also did a duet with Phil Collins, “Easy Lover,” in 1984.
Johnson on percussion never smiled and he seemed so much older than the other members. He didn’t move as fast as everyone else and wasn’t enthusiastic at all, but when it came time for his drum solo, he finally seemed happy.
White, the band’s bassist, was amazing. Bailey performed in like fashion.
EWF played every one of their hit songs, including “Let’s Groove,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “Shining Star,” Sing a Song,” “After the Love is Gone,” “September” and the Stylistics’ classic, “Betcha By Golly Wow.”
There is nothing Philip Bailey can’t sing. That’s what a five-octave range will get you.
Based on their background, they seem to have had one or two hits each year from 1969 out of Chicago.
Though in 1979, a few radio jocks decided to proclaim “Disco Sucks,” so much so they encouraged fans to go to Comiskey Park on night and bring with them disco albums so they could burn them. Disco artists considered this to be racist and homophobic. Rock heads went ahead with the movement, but bands like EWF and Chic, among others, still flourished.
Still, the bottom line — this concert was colossal.
The Chic/EWF 2017 concert tour ends Aug. 22. If you want to have a great time and dance and clap your hands until your feet and hands hurt, then this is a concert for you.
Upcoming events at The Prudential Center include Shawn Mendes, Aug. 17, Lionel Richie and Mariah Carey Aug. 18; Kendrick Lamar, Aug. 25; Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Sept. 7; Paul McCartney, Sept. 11 and 12; Bruno Mars, Sept. 26; Katy Perry, Oct. 8; Guns & Roses, Oct .12 and more.
For more information, visit www.prudentialcenter.com.