KC & The Sunshine Band returned to London this summer for their first gigs in the UK for 18 years. We were there to shake, shake, shake our booties.
I’ll state it: KC & The Sunshine Band are my guilty musical pleasure. Sure, they might have bordered on the cheesy side of the disco era, but once you accept that you do actually enjoy cheesy disco, you begin to get past it, and realise just great a band they really were. Like many acts of the disco era, the group weren’t necessary looking to make era-defining social statements or create elaborate musical masterpieces that critics will laud forever more. Instead, the group created some incredibly infectious funk and disco tunes, perfect for the dancefloors of the seventies. Led by Harry Casey, better known as KC, the group today is a reincarnation of the original, with new performers joining KC on stage, as well as long time members, including the excellent percussionist Fermin Goytisolo. Taken together, this epic eleven-piece band, including a four piece horn section, is one of the most exiting disco groups still performing today, rivalled only by Nile Rodgers and Chic.
The planned return to the UK was due to take in three public dates, one at the Koko and one at British Summer Time in London, and one in Manchester. Unfortunately for Manchester fans, that date was cancelled to do unexplained “scheduling conflicts” (or, perhaps more likely, a lack of ticket sales). Fortunately for us, the London dates went ahead (as well as a performance for the US Ambassador who annoyed a nearby open-air theatre group, who certainly weren’t about to get down tonight). The group opened with their classic disco hit ‘Shake, Shake, Shake (Your Booty)‘, performing an extended version of the song complete with dance routines from the group’s dancers Kenneth Morris and Janell Burgess.
Billed as “the hottest thing since sunshine to come out of Florida”, KC and the Sunshine Band were greeted with a great roar as soon as they took the stage and launched into ‘Shake, Shake, Shake (Your Booty)’. Firstly, what a great choice of opening number, and, secondly, it was clear from the opening bars that this performance was going to be something special: the band were superb, and KC, flanked by backing singers and dancers, appeared in a bright gold jacket, and began dancing the same moves he was doing back in the seventies. And credit to whoever took the decision to fly over the entire band, dancers and all, to London: touring on this scale is no doubt a costly business, but having the whole Sunshine Band ensemble on stage made for a brilliant night of music and performance.
The huge applause that followed seemed to overwhelm KC – it was as if after 18 years he wasn’t expecting UK crowds to be so vocal in their approval. He needn’t have been worried about how he and the group would be received: from the start, the crowd were enthusiastic about the Sunshine Band’s return to London, and didn’t stop dancing for the two hours or so KC and his group were on stage. KC, it’s fair to say, isn’t in quite the shape he once was in the seventies. Now 66 and slighter larger than he was before, he was at times out-of-breath and stopped to chat to the crowd while he recovered for the next banger he was to drop. But then, how many 66 year olds put on such a vigorous performance?
For the next two and a bit hours KC and the Sunshine Band put on a masterclass in performance, combining exciting grooves, dance routines and several costume changes to deliver a fantastic performance at Koko. There wasn’t a song we could think of that they didn’t play. Shake, Shake, Shake was quickly followed by a powerful version of their ballad ‘Please Don’t Go’, before it was back to the up-tempo numbers for the rest of the show. ‘Boogie Shoes‘, the 1975 hit that was included on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, followed hot on the heels of ‘Please Don’t Go’, and set the pace for the rest of the night.
Highlights included performances of ‘Rock You Baby’, originally recorded by Gwen McCrae with backing by the original KC & The Sunshine Band (written by KC himself), and their Northern Soul hit ‘Queen of Clubs’, which was included just for the UK audience. Another standout moment from the show was ‘Keep It Coming Love‘, one of the group’s most underrated recordings. Performing an extended version of the funky number, the group even managed to slide in a snippet of The Commodores’ ‘Brick House’. Here, the horn section really got funky, and you got the sense that, even though they were tucked behind a set of keyboards and the guitarists, they too were enjoying themselves.
Then group also played a couple of recent releases, one from this year, the dance-orientated ‘Move Your Body’, and a Sam Cooke cover from their Feeling You! album of sixities cover songs. They were pleasant versions, and were actually better than the studio versions the group released. They even slipped in a version of the Four Tops’ ‘It’s the Same Old Song‘, which the group had covered on their Who Do Ya (Love) album in 1978.
But what the crowd really wanted to hear was the group’s iconic hits, and time was slipping away from KC; at one point he checked his watch exclaiming, “F***, I’ve got to get my ass moving”. And get his ass moving he did: ‘Give It Up‘, ‘That’s The Way (I Like It)‘, ‘Get Down Tonight‘ were all played to perfection, with the eleven piece crafting an evening of epic disco proportions. KC disappeared from the stage once, then came back, then left, and then came back for one final performance of ‘Please Don’t Go’. Then, two hours after he first appeared, KC was gone again.
All-in-all, KC & The Sunshine Band put on a masterclass in performance at Koko. Given the venue was really quite small (or, if you’re a hipster, “intimate”) , how the eleven-piece band managed to fit onto the stage (and then dance about on it) is one of life’s mysteries. But by being so close to the action, it made for a really special return performance of the band to the British Isles. KC was on top form all night, as were his musicians and dancers. Sure, he’s perhaps not in as great voice as he once was, but KC is perhaps the best showman we’ve seen live. His dedication to the band and putting on a performance was inspiring, and, above all, it was fun. A KC & The Sunshine Band is perhaps the most fun gig we’ve been too. I just hope we don’t have to wait another 18 years until he’s back to shake, shake, shake his booty again.