A Nostalgic Sexy Time With Lionel Ritchie and Nile Rodgers

Two consummate ringmasters – Lionel Richie and Nile Rodgers. An audience you’d expect, and one you didn’t. Hits from the last five decades that you know by osmosis and hold close to your heart; and a sometimes self-congratulatory trawl through them. Troupes of sensational musicians; and clowns distracting the reason everyone’s there. Creepy, nostalgic sexy time; and a rightly euphoric celebration of humanity. Could a stormy night in Auckland cope? 

Nile Rodgers walks onto stage unaccompanied, and introduces himself to a crowd that’s mostly still queuing for warm wine in the foyer. Dapper in a baby-pink beret and immaculately creased white slacks, Nile holds court about quite how many hits he’s written, and indeed the support hour is a showcase for Nile’s ego. But why not.

Whether it’s Chic hits Dance Dance Dance and Le Freak, or those penned and produced for others – Like a Virgin, Get Lucky– this is certainly a non-stop party mix tape. 65 and now cancer-free Nile says he’s on a mission to play more hits to more people than ever before.

His supreme band, especially lead vocalist Kimberly Davis, trumpeter Bill Holloman and drummer Ralph Rolle are of such pedigree that you’re lured into thinking that the world can never have too many sax and slap bass solos. Inevitable, the Let’s Dance ‘cover’ has a massive Bowie hole right in the middle of it, but by the time Chic featuring Nile Rogers end on a super-extended Good Times, the place is packed and the aisle dancing is in full-swing.

Strange then, to force a lull with a 30-minute intermission, and for Lionel Richie to start his show with Easy. Everyone’s back in their seats but Lionel shines, sitting at the piano, in a sports-casual, red sequined jacket. Throughout the 90-minute All the Hits show, there’s something unmistakably alluring about Lionel Richie, and the aging loss of richness in his vocal is almost instantly forgotten. His henchmen might have been given the job of taking eyes off the warbling crooner, but it is mostly annoying, especially his main sax and harmonica man, who carts around the stage like a pantomime horse. Stop it!

Lionel is a good between-hits story-teller, but also a punter-flatterer and a fluffer. He is humble to admit that he’s really only the singing vessel through which a million babies have been made. “Get a room”, he repeatedly pleas to smoochers on the front rows. And as the duvet soundtrack plays on (plays on, plays on) through Truly, Penny Lover and Stuck On You, there’s an air that it might be time to cut to the inevitable ceiling-dancing chase.

Not before a mid-set detour into funkytown, with Commodore medley Brick House/Fire. These maybe less known to the greatest hits-owning crowd, but the tight, hip-pumping thrust of the rhythm section keeps everyone on their feet. Truly everyone.

There’s grandmas with their granddaughters, disgruntled husbands with their ecstatic wives, disgruntled wives with their ecstatic husbands and office parties. All are vying for their shot at appearing on the video screens. Some are slow dancing, some disco dancing; all looking like they’re on a wedding reception dance floor – it has to be said, me included. The urge to dance badly is pandemically infectious.

The crowd out-Ross Diana on Endless Love. Hello maintains its sinister air of stalkishness and then finally, we are all Dancing On The Ceiling. It’s wonderfully hullaballoo, but rained on by weak set closer We Are The World.

All is forgiven though, as Lionel’s back – in shiny silver this time – for an extended encore of the jubilatory All Night Long. As the arena empties, Lionel’s done his job and for many, this is the perfect start to an all night long.

Lionel Ritchie with special guests CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers, Spark Arena April 12 2018

Simon Todd

Click on any image for a photograph gallery of the concert by Michael Flynn: