Disco purgatory

by Ryan Snyder

Judging from KC & the Sunshine Band’s nearly sold-out performance last Thursday at the Carolina Theatre Greensboro, disco is not completely dead, but it could certainly stand to lose about 50 lbs. The subject of the venue’s second Command Performance fundraiser was once the standard bearer of 1970s dance music because its sound, as sugary and materially devoid as it was, it was a reflection of America at the time. All there was to do was put on your boogie shoes and shake-shake-shake your booty. Today, its leader and namesake is a reflection of where that scene ended up: abused, conflagrated and adipose from excess, getting by on pure nostalgia because of an artistic tree that never boughed.

But KC & the Sunshine Band get by nonetheless thanks to a formula of Harry Wayne Casey’s effusive charisma and a nearly overwhelming spectacle of nearly every disco cliché imaginable. It’s a band that celebrates that scene of 30-plus years ago while playfully and subtly sending it up via lavish arrangements, scandalous go-go dancers, heavy-handed light and smoke array, sequined polyester everywhere and Casey himself as the physical product of a $100,000-per-year coke habit after the band’s commercial peak, though he was quick to get out in front of what everyone was no doubt thinking.

“Hoo boy, what has happened,” he said with a look of shock, as if he had just then noticed his condition while high-kicking and free-spinning around the stage during opener “Shake Your Booty.” “Get a good look because this is what Justin Timberlake will look like when he’s 40.”

Never mind that Timberlake only has eight years to turn himself inside out, given that assertion. KC’s sudden and inexplicable self-awareness didn’t deter his Chris Farley-Chippendale routine, even if he’s a candidate for the fate that befell Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Country Dick Montana. He’s in the kind of shape where, when he shouted, “Come on people, help me out,” during “Boogie Shoes,” the thought that it could be a request for medical attention did cross your mind. But in terms of presentation, weight is among lesser concerns when one possesses a voice with all the flavors of tapioca. He’s careful to disguise it among layers of sumptuous bass, ebullient horns and an overload of visual information. Given, KC made hay as a songwriter first, entertainer second and singer third, and as the saying goes, hay is best made while the sun shines.