On the day before New York’s Gay Pride Festival, Paradise Garage came to life at Summerstage with the “Club Classics” afternoon party. And since Paradise Garage was a club and disco was never a live on stage genre, the 80s House, all synth and funk songs, was a revelation in more than one way.
House wasn’t born at Paradise Garage but it sure came of age there. from 1977 to 1987, it wasn’t merely a place to hear and dance all night to the latest disco-house remixes, it was a gay hook up hang out and a part of the entire gay movement in the wake of AIDS. Political, sexual, and always always dance oriented. Modern House was born at Paradise Garage, moved from there to Studio 54 and from there to the world. This is the start of the sound that has cornered the market on world pop. Listening to DJ Andre Collins hour long set was awesome, he opened by mixing a rhythm to to MLK’s “I Had A Dream” and then settled in to pro-to beats beats and more beat. It was an honor.
But that was DJing and we came for live. Curated and directed “by producer/scholar and host of NPR’s R&B/soul streaming radio channel” Jason King, we heard live versions of classic cuts from labels like Casablanca, Salsoul and West end.
Company Freak, featuring Karen Bernod, Daryl D’Bonneau, Karl Dixon, Keith Fluitt, Damon Horton, and Sandra Huff, were on stage for the entire two and a half hours that followed, breathing life into classic dance tracks from “Saturday”, with Norma Jean Wright taking it over, till the last song , the great Valentino’s “I Was Born This Way” with each of the singers taking a solo. The audience was certainly gay heavy but really not as gay heavy as you might expect, still it was just a blast to see gay couples with their kids enjoying the day.
Between the two songs there were highlights galore and at the top of the list were the three singers from Chic, Alfa Anderson, Luci Martin, and Norma Jean Wright. Chic, indeed disco, was not a singers art form, though listening to the voices Saturday afternoon it is hard to imagine why, so Chic is not thought of as the result of the genius of three young women, it is all and always the late great Bernard Edwards and the back on top Nile Rodgers. I saw Niles a couple of years ago (read it here) and he didn’t even mention the missing singers but watching them deliver “Dance Dance Dance”, it was like the missing half of the show I saw in 2012. The three women were in fine voice and with the freedom to improvise on the groove they did so, and it was great.
Over and over what becomes clear is, for an art form in which the vocalists job was to be mixed on the same level as the beat, the singers were uniformly excellent. Ultra Nate, one of Frankie Knuckles favorites, looked awesome and performed a superb “If You Could Read My Mind” and Vivian Reed’s epic “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent” stopped me cold, though not the audience who danced up a storm . Holding a walking stick, Kevin Aviance had a belting baritone and a nice ass. The wild card was Australian disco guy, who is looking an awful lot like Freddie Mercury, channeled Sylvester before performing his own “Black And Gold”.
Of all the ways to serve gay pride, this was a great one. Last year Summerstage did a similar thing for the 35th anniversary of the birth of hip hop -they just have the connects and the vision to put such wide and free ranging shows together. As the song goes, “I’m happy, I’m carefree and I’m gay”, and long may you be who you are.
I was happier because I knew I was happy
a snapshot of big hits and high tides, mostly high tides.
There is just a lot to love
the sound seemed to erupt from every side of the room
still on top
“danceable music for the end of days”
contracts its world in Nashisms
let’s take what we are offered
It’s the music, stupid