It’s a night when people old enough to know better emerge Thriller-like from their 9-5 jobs wearing clothes that are surely old enough to be donated to vintage stores. They mingle with the occasional curious teenage hipster, only knowing the bassline from Nile Rodgers-by-proxy Sister Sledge’s ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’ as the hook from “that Will Smith song”. The choice of Northern Ireland’s Space Dimension Controller as the support act was a clever move. There’s no awkward local ’70s pastiche, no uncomfortable disco covers, no middle-of-the-road ‘modern soul’. Instead we get a cleverly woven, sophisticated, laid-back disco vibe, classic songs being hinted at but mixed so smoothly into each other that there’s no time to be sickened by any one song, or to encourage an audience singalong. That’s for later. Instead the subtle excitement builds, heads bobbing throughout the crowd, every now and again a space clearing when an inspired individual feels the need to bust some moves.
Finally someone spots a bandannaed Nile Rodgers at the front of the crowd which is where he stays for some time, shaking hands and excitedly taking pictures of the audience as if they are the show. His six piece band emerge, imposing men dressed all in white and after a bit of preamble two female singers appear, gloriously glittery and hot-panted.
There’s no point in warming a crowd up slowly when they’re already ready to go. It’s the big guns from the outset with ‘Everybody Dance’ and the audience do exactly what they’re told to. The sweaty party atmosphere continues with ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ and comes to a head with ‘I Want Your Love’ which is presented much like an American three ring circus: Wherever you look onstage something is happening and being executed perfectly, from the insanely shrill trumpet solo to bassist Jerry Barnes taking his moment to shine at the front of the stage, this third song finishing with such a bang that it feels as triumphant as an encore.
“We are not a cover band,” Nile tells the uninitiated, “We played this shit in the first place!” The evening will pan out as a This Is Your Life of Nile, explains Nile. There’s a medley of songs written for Diana Ross, moving onto hits written for Sister Sledge, ‘Like A Virgin’ made famous by Madonna and after a short comedy routine [tall, bald, black man joking “People stop me in the street all the time and say I look like this singer!”] drummer Ralph Rolle takes on lead vocals for David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’.
It’s not all about the originals though. Lesser-known Chic song ‘Soup For One’ morphs into its successor halfway through: Modjo’s ‘Lady’. The summery bassline and the fact Chic are embracing a damn good song made from a sample of theirs; an acknowledgement that most in the audience are probably surprised by, takes the joy in the venue to another level. There’s a bit of a lull during ‘Original Sin’ (written with INXS) but a lull in this gig isn’t a lull by the standards of normal gigs, more a chance to pause in the dancing and regroup for the hits we know will be played soon.
It’s not a surprise that we finish with the double header of ‘Le Freak’ and ‘Good Times’. The bass break in ‘Le Freak’ is treated as almost the most important moment in the gig, which it just might be. Once again Barnes appears beside Rodgers to showcase his bass skills, leading to a choreographed cool dude face-off between the pair. An extended ‘Good Times’ finishes the night, with an invited stage invasion [complete with an uninvited interloper who can’t believe his luck, posturing just beyond the reach of the security staff] and a little ‘Rapper’s Delight’. All in all, a set list containing at least four song titles that include the word ‘dance/dancer’ did exactly what it said on the tin and brought the funk, samba carnival style.