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Chic: Live at the Budokan

Other // Unrated // November 11, 2008
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Bill Gibron | posted June 5, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Product:
Disco is often maligned as being the last - and we do mean LAST - bastion of brave musicianship. After all, what does a steady two/four beat and a repetitive chorus about shaking one's booty have to do with quality instrumentation or invention. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and in this case, Chic was a solid creative outsider. Built on the unbelievably funky moves of main songwriters Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, the combination of static guitar and slinking bass gave the Studio 54 crowd something to really cheer (and dance) about. Formed in 1976, the prodigious band released several singles, a couple of classic albums, and even found time for Edwards and Rogers to produce other artists, including Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, and Blondie's Deborah Harry. Perhaps best known for the much mined (and sampled) riff for the seminal '70s track "Good Times", the band reformed for a series of concerts in the late '90s. Meant as a celebration of all things Chic, the Concert at Budokan became melancholy memento for reasons that, today, still remain shocking.

The Plot:
It's a surreal swansong at best. Just as they were rediscovering their groove together, Bernard Edwards was suddenly stricken with pneumonia. One day after Chic performed at the noted Japanese auditorium, the group was without a key founding member. His death still rattles Rodgers, who appears here in introductory "commentaries" for the nine songs performed. Indeed, this glorified greatest hits oldies show remains a stunning example of how great the duo really were. The set list performed that night, for those who need to know such information, is as follows:

"Do That Dance"
"He's the Greatest Dancer" (with Sister Sledge)
"We Are Family" (with Sister Sledge)
"Dance, Dance, Dance"
"I Want Your Love"
"Good Times"
"Le Freak" (with guest guitarist Slash)
"Chic Cheer"
"Just One World"

One final caveat for those looking for the real "Chic Experience". Edwards and Rogers are present and accounted for, but drummer Tony Thompson is nowhere to be seen - and his strong beat presence is greatly missed. Similarly, vocalists Jill Jones and Sylver Logan Sharp stand in for original singers Luci Martin and Alfa Anderson. Finally, Steve Winwood also appeared with Chic during this particular show. Sadly, his cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Stone Free" is not included (perhaps for licensing reasons).

The DVD:
Let's take a moment to remember the amazing Bernard Edwards, shall we? He was a truly gifted songwriter and producer, and his signature sound filled with fat, bottom heavy hooks remains a memorable element of Chic's overall aural appeal. In combination with Nile Rodgers reworking of the rock/soul guitar, an instrument often overlooked in the overall R&B mix, the duo delivered the kind of fresh, innovative sound that turns inspiration into superstars. There was never denying that the collaboration would produce hits. That the material has remained so timeless speaks volumes to what Edwards and Rodgers crafted. That being said, this concert is kind of a letdown. It's really more for the Chic purist, or the person who already has a wide collection of band-based memorabilia. Getting into the group this way will definitely lead to a few moments of selective memory head scratching. Chic was probably a better album/single artist, anyway. As with many acts like this, the live factor shows the flaws in the overall sonic approach.

There are several highlights here, though. When three members of Sister Sledge show up to offer their Edwards/Rodgers' hits, they do the songs proud. They truly deliver in a way both Ms. Jones and Ms. Sharp seem incapable of. Of course, the minute the foursome breaks into "Le Freak" or "I Want Your Love", there is nothing you can do except get up and dance. While it would have been nice for the band to include a few lesser numbers - like "My Forbidden Lover" or "Hangin'", the selection here makes the Japanese audience very happy. They are on their feet and cheering from the moment Edwards and Rodgers break in for the initial workout of "Do That Dance". The constant references to JT Super Producer and Rodgers status as same can grow tiring, but overall, we really enjoy the full blown funk on display. It's almost unfair to call Chic pure "disco". Indeed, they tend to transcend the genre while sticking exclusively to many of its more memorable archetypes. Where else would you find the Depression-era cheer "Yowsah", or the litany of activities showcased as part of a "Good Time". Sure, the music was meant to be fun, but Edwards and Rodgers didn't relegate it to disposability either.

This makes the concert both enjoyable and a bit sad. When you realize that Edwards died the day after this show was filmed, when you see how full of life and how ably he contributed to the overall experience, you suddenly miss his musicianship. Ever bass line becomes a eulogy, every backing vocal the last known recording of a major musical insight. There will be some who see this as nothing more than another nostalgia act making a quick buck off the backs of fans more than eager to revisit the past. But Chic: Live at the Budokan stands as a sensational last statement from one of the true innovators of the '70s. Bernard Edwards won't be the last bass virtuoso. There are hundreds of hungry musicians ready to rope rings around his sly, slippery sides. But his loss is definitely felt within the genre he helped to define. Dance music hasn't been the same since it drove the cultural conversation to distraction. Chic were one of the reasons why, and this excellent live performance proves why.

The Video:
Offered in a decent analog transfer, the 1.33:1 full screen image presented for Chic: Live at the Budakon comes across as good, but not great. There is some flaring, as well as a few moments of overt softness from the '90s era TV signal. There are also focus issues among the cameramen and they often focus on ancillary members of the band instead of keeping the camera on Edwards and Rodgers. While definitely not reference quality, it's not a dud either. Indeed, this is the best we would hope for given the rarity - and reality - of this performance.

The Audio:
The sound situation here is much better, even if the mix occasionally buries Edward's bass in the background. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is smooth and atmospheric, mimicking the concert experience expertly. You won't get a lot of channel challenging moves and the original recording tends to flatten everything out, but you definitely get the "live vibe" here.

The Extras:
As part of the added content here, we've already mentioned Rodgers' "commentary". Really more a series of introductory shout outs and recollections, they do not play over the particular song, but function as a preamble before the particular tune. Rodgers appears on camera, and while a bit too self-congratulatory and short, these segments really help sell the overall DVD experience. Similarly, we get a series of biopgraphies, discographies, and a specific track selection option. Edwards is also given a special tribute in the form of two text essays on his passing. It's a nice supplement to his legacy and this show.

Final Thoughts:
As someone who was radicalized by punk when it hit American shores in the mid-'70s, groups like Chic held a special place in this critic's growing genre-jumping desire to embrace all music. While we usually hated anything remotely associated with the dinosaur and disco, we gave Edwards and Rodgers all the funk love we could. After all, their special combo sonics inspired such bands as The Clash to embrace the groove and go for it. As a result, no matter its overall shortcomings, Chic: Live at the Budakon will earn an easy Recommended rating. It's far from perfect, but it is indicative of the entire dynamic this duo managed to manufacture in their New York studios. It's a shame Edwards didn't live long enough to see a post-millennial generation embrace his muse. Chic may have stood for freaking out and good times in the Me Decade, but today, they are a shining example of how expert musicianship can overwhelm even the most narrow-minded genre prejudice.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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