What a beautiful day for a disco party! The sky is blue, the sun is out and there is a heck of a lot going on down in McLaren Vale. On our way down we made the mistake of following the ‘event in progress’ signs and ended up having parked ($5) and walked almost all the way to the entrance of the Hot Dub Wine Machine event. Under normal circumstances I would have been all over attending HDTM, it is one of the best parties in the world, but we had a date with disco destiny a few wineries away.
We arrived just as Marcia Hines was kicking off her set. Dressed in a fantastic shimmery jumpsuit Marcia Shines (that is a fantastic Marcia Hines reference by the way) so bright you could see her from another planet. She is a brilliant performer, born to sing and perform. She loves being on stage as much as we love her being up there. In 2006 she released Discotheque an album of covers of classic disco songs and in recent times she has been part of the smash hit disco musical Velvet show, so she is more than qualified to throw down the disco gauntlet today. Every song today is a classic, including The Best of My Love (The Emotions), Shake Your Groove Thing (Peaches & Herb), Never Can Say Goodbye (Gloria Gaynor) and her own huge Aussie hits You and Your Love Still Brings Me To My Knees.
You could have been forgiven to think we were at a tradie convention with the number of construction workers in the audience today. People love a dress up and the Village People provide the perfect group cosplay for an event like today. So there are dozens of Village People groups around the site. Leather Men, Cowboys, Soldiers, some American Indian head dresses, and Cops are everywhere. Lots of sparkles, lots of lycra, and shiny glo-mesh tops. The atmosphere is very festive. The Village People have always had a huge following in Australia. We loved all the early hits like Macho Man and San Francisco and when the world turned on them with the release of the You Can’t Stop The Music movie, we never faltered and made it into a box office smash in this country. The Village People have toured Australia THIRTY NINE times and always put on a killer diller show.
However the Village People that people are used to seeing is not the Village People we saw today. The original lead singer of The Village People Victor Willis left the band (or was sacked, depending on which reports you believe) right before the making of the You Can’t Stop The Music movie. He was replaced by Ray Simpson in the role of the cop.
Here the story gets a little confusing. Victor Willis co-wrote a bunch of those early songs and the copyright period has expired, so those rights return to the original song writers. Victor has regained 50% of the rights to the songs (and thus gets the royalties etc); but has also decided that he is now the Village People and has started touring with a new set of guys and a live band (*traditionally the original Village People use backing tracks with live vocals and lots of choreography). Willis flatly refused to perform Village People material for thirty years, until now. So there are currently two versions of Village People and there is a trademark dispute pending as we speak. The other version (who were just here in May) posted a warning to their fans that they were NOT touring Australia, and clearly somebody in Victor’s camp has recently changed the Wikipedia page to list all the members of the rival VP’s as ‘ex’ members.
These Australian dates are the very first for the Willis version of the group, and this is their second ever show. So, there is some confusion as the various new American Indian, Construction Worker, etc arrive on stage. I guess if you were further back, you might not notice, but many fans around me were clearly disappointed that this wasn’t the version they were expecting. The band is solid and they are concentrating on the early singles like San Francisco, In Hollywood, Go West and these are all songs I like and have listened to, DJed with and held in great fondness for decades. Although Willis has a strong voice, his version of the Village People doesn’t hang together well yet. The vocals aren’t in proper harmony on many songs, there is none of the choreography or co-ordination that people have come to expect from the other Village People (they have been doing it consistently for forty years, so they pretty much have it down). However, people are here to have a good time and aren’t going to let anything get in the way. After all you can’t stop the music, etc. And let’s face it, a lot of people are already in their Village People gear, and you are here, and they are doing all those songs. When they do Macho Man or Go West, the entire audience is on their feet, singing and dancing. Willis leaves the stage while the other five do Can’t Stop The Music, and then returns for In The Navy. The band give it a bit of the ‘the one and only original voice of the Village People’ before several thousand people do the YMCA. Such an iconic song, people had a great time, but I have had a great time singing that song at karaoke, or with the worst cover band ever, or one memorable occasion with 50,000 drunk Irishmen at a festival singing along to the video. So it’s not hard to let yourself go with it and have a good time. It is still a celebration of those Village People songs, with the original singer of those songs. But it wasn’t the best version of The Village People I have ever seen. I hope that it’s because they have just started and they are still finding their feet.
No such issues with Sister Sledge, who are up next. Slick, professional, they sound fantastic, they are wearing outfits covered in bling that glints and sparkles in the setting sun and look like they are having the time of their lives. Hailing from Philadelphia in the US, Sister Sledge have been making records since 1971. They appeared at the legendary Rumble in The Jungle concert in Africa with James Brown. They had a few hits in Europe and Japan but it was when they released the We Are Family album things went International, with hits world wide. And today they deliver them all, with chorography, great harmonies and a crash hot band. The set included All American Girls, Frankie, Lost In Music (with added Le Freak), He’s the Greatest Dancer all leading up to the obvious finale of We Are Family. It is a great set and everybody needs a rest before the next act.
KC & The Sunshine Band are giants in disco. They had more disco hits than almost any other act and just about any one of their hits can fill any dancefloor even all these decades later. So we are in for a treat. The Sunshine Band are the real deal, old school, funktastic, disco-rama, groove-a-licious unit. There’s a dozen or more people of stage, horn section, dancers, singer, guitar, bass, drums, keys and every one of them is an awesome musician who has been working with Harry Casey for many, many years. They are air tight and bulletproof. Like the truly great bands of the genre like Earth Wind and Fire, The Commodores, The JB’s you have to play tight to make it sound loose. These guys are not messing about right from the start.
They open with (Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty and then right into Boogie Shoes. The vibe is brilliant. Harry and the dancers are doing choreography to every song, dance moves, high kicks, conga lines. It’s bloomin’ marvelous.
Harry tells us is 66 years old and wonders ‘what happened?’. He says “I recently put on twenty pounds and I was worried I’d have to change the name of the band to KFC & The Sunshine Band”. It is a genuinely funny joke and takes ownership of anybody who might be thinking negative thoughts him carrying some extra padding. And you know what? There is not a single person who could aim any criticism in his direction because the man sings and dances and high kicks through an hour and a half of high energy disco hits. It is thoroughly impressive.
For the most part the night is thumping disco groove Sunshine Band Classics, but he does his mega-hit ballad, Please Don’t Go. Throw in a couple of excellent covers Brick House by The Commodores, Shake Your Body Down To The Ground by The Jacksons and juicing up some of their own with snatches of other well known songs in the mix. Every song is a classic met with a huge wave of disco love from the punters. I’m Your Boogie Man, Keep It Comin’ Love, It’s The Same Old Song, Give It Up, just one fantastic song after another. I was thrilled that they did Rock Your Baby, which KC wrote and was a super hit for George McCrae in 1974. It is one of my favourite ever songs and tonight’s version is awesome.
Harry and the dancers change costumes quite often (I lost count) and the band has a tiny break while the drummer does his solo. Everyone returns for the massive finish of That’s The Way (I Like It) and Get Down Tonight. And then the show is over. Everybody packs up their picnic blankets and hampers, and makes their way out into the brisk McLaren Vale night. Harry Casey showed us he was indeed our Boogie Man, we shook our Bootys, our feet are sore from getting down tonight. Let’s hope that KC & The Sunshine Band never give it up.
Review by Ian Bell