When Chaka Khan last visited Ireland – only last month, in fact, when she played Electric Picnic – she looked like she'd stopped by the main stage on her way to do her weekly shop. No offence to the woman with one of the greatest voices ever, but it seemed like the Queen of Funk had entirely underestimated the sort of show that the Picnic audience was expecting.
Tonight is a different kettle of fish. Glammed up to the nines and with a light show to enhance both her setlist and her backing band/back-up singers, there is undoubtedly more of a sense of occasion to the evening – and thousands have turned up early to see the Chicago woman do her thing.
Yet as incredible as her 64-year-old voice remains, the setlist isn't quite up to scratch and from where we're sitting at least, the sound is muddy and the drums too high in the mix. Predictably, the crowd ignite when she plays the hits; 'I Feel for You' is a zippy delight, as is 'What Cha Gonna Do For Me', one of several songs from her Rufus era. In between, there's a lot of pointless vocal histrionics that soon begin to wear thin, while a long noodling bass solo from her band leader may be technically impressive but does nothing to sustain momentum. As Nile Rodgers watches from the side of the stage - darting on for a quick hug - 'I'm Every Woman', finally goads the crowd into leaving the comfort of their seats, and they stay standing for an admittedly great version of final song, 'Ain't Nobody'.
You could blame Chic for setting such high standards for so-called 'heritage acts', really. Since their 2009 appearance at Electric Picnic - a set which has now gone down in Irish festival lore – the disco pioneers have enjoyed an unprecedented renaissance, something which Nile Rodgers makes a point of acknowledging from the stage with genuine feeling. And yes, they've played here countless times in the intervening years – but crowds keep coming back for a reason. Why? Because it remains an undeniable pleasure to hear songs like 'I Want Your Love', 'I'm Coming Out', 'We Are Family' and others than have been privy to Rodgers' golden touch over the last four decades, played by the man himself. That includes his most recent endeavours too, as a thrilling 'Get Lucky' demonstrates, while Madonna's 'Like a Virgin' is a delightfully unexpected inclusion and signature songs 'Le Freak' and 'Good Times' bring the house down.
Co-vocalists Kimberly Davis and Folami Thompson are flawless, but the entire band, brass section and all, is a well-oiled machine; even drummer Ralph Rolle proves his worth on the mic by taking the lead on David Bowie's 'Let's Dance'. Above all else, it's simply fun - and unlike Chaka Khan's set, 75 minutes flies by in what seems like an instant. Yes, they may be regular visitors to our shores - but because of nights like tonight - where sheer entertainment trumps all else - Chic are welcome back anytime.
BlueFest continues at the 3Arena this weekend with Steely Dan/The Doobie Brothers (Saturday and Monday) and Hall & Oates/Chris Isaak (Sunday).