KC and The Sunshine Band
Bergen Performing Arts Center – Englewood, NJ – 12/8/2023
Review & Photos- Rebecca Wolf
In the mid-late 1970s the funky, rhythmic, disco dance beats of KC and The Sunshine Band ignited the airwaves. KC (Harry Wayne Casey), his writing/producing partner Richard Finch and a band of musicians released six top ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including five number one singles and a number two single. The 70s was a time of musical growth across all genres, an explosion of artists and bands. There was something for everyone, from rock to pop to funk to folk to R&B, as well as the new sound that took the music scene by storm, disco. While disco didn’t win favor with all music fans, disco welcomed all fans, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Disco brought a newfound electricity and passion to the music and dance scene, bringing together all who wanted to share the joy, energy, and spirit of the rhythmic drum beats, syncopated baselines, vibrant electric rhythm guitars, electric pianos, synthesizers, strings, horns brass.
Arriving on the Miami music scene in 1973, KC and The Sunshine Band was initially named KC & The Sunshine Junkanoo Band, as the band was created using a local Miami Junkanoo band, as well as studio musicians from the record label where KC worked. The Junkanoo band sound originated from the cultural tradition of Junkanoo parades, began in Jamaica and The Bahamas and spreading to US cities with large Caribbean-American populations. When KC became connected with sound engineer Richard Finch the two quickly evolved into a songwriting partnership. While the pair initially wrote music for other artists, they ultimately formed KC and The Sunshine Band, a band that went on to create a funky disco sound that set it apart from other disco bands and contributed to the band’s success.
As the 70s came to an end, disco came to an end, and KC and The Sunshine Band likewise came to an end. While disco remained dormant throughout the 80s, it was not gone for good. In the early 90s, with a returning interest in disco, KC reformed the band with new members and has continued to perform and occasionally release new music.
This year the band is touring to mark its 50th Anniversary. While KC is the only original member remaining, he’s surrounded himself with dynamic musicians, vocalists and dancers. Those missing the 1970s and eager for a bit of nostalgia will welcome being transported back to the glorious disco days by the grooving band members and the psychedelically colored stage. On December 8th the Bergen Performing Arts Center was packed with enthusiastic, nostalgia-seeking individuals. As audience members filed in 1970s music played over the loud speakers and warmed up the crowd for the music yet to come. The final song before the beginning of the performance had audience members on their feet, singing and moving their arms in choreographed unison to the Village People’s hit “YMCA.” The audience was at peak excitement as “YMCA” trailed off and the theater lights dimmed.
The darkened stage was suddenly flooded by a beam of light shining down on drummer Dave Simmons, setting the evening’s musical foundation with lively, syncopated drum beats. In a flash the stage was covered in a rainbow of brightness as more than a dozen members of The Sunshine Band exploded onto the brightly lit stage to began the night of groovy, funky, disco music. The crowd was instantly enthralled by the eye-catching dance moves and spirit-lifting sound. Their level of excitement further escalated as KC bound onstage and joined the band in performing KC and The Sunshine Band’s 1976 hit “(Shake, Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty,” followed by “Boogie Shoes,” from the band’s 1975 self-titled album, which became a hit after appearing on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in 1977. While it’s been close to 50 years since the release of many of these songs, KC’s voice remained strong during these energetic, full band numbers.
Welcoming the Bergen PAC crowd, KC thanked everyone who was supposed to attend his canceled performance in March, which was abruptly called off due to a positive Covid test. With cheers from the audience KC continued to entertain the fans with his authenticity his humor. “You know, I’m not 22 anymore! It’s been 50 years. I’m 72 now!” he said with a broad smile. “I’ve gained a lot of weight. I should be KFC!” he laughed, as the crowd joined in. “I’ve lost 14 lbs but I have a lot more more to go! I know there are probably some people in the crowd out there who don’t know me. I’m the NSYNC of your parents. The Justin Timberlake of 30 years ago. He has the same birthday as me, just 30 years after me, January 31st.”
It was quite impressive to watch KC perform throughout the almost 2 hour set. Neither his age nor change in physique stopped KC from singing, dancing and immersing himself in the dynamic, electrifying show. It was an extravaganza with dancers, back-up singers, a horn section, percussionists, a keyboardist, a guitarist and a bass player engaged in choreographed movements, as vibrant lights illuminated the stage. Additional songs in the set included 1977’s “I’m Your Boogie Man,” from the band’s fourth album Part 3, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as 1979’s “Please Don’t Go,” from the band’s sixth album, which was Billboard Hot 100’s first No. 1 hit of the 1980s.
“We’re going to go back to 1974 right now because that was a special year for me,” KC shared with the crowd. “I started out as a songwriter for other artists. Then in ’74 I wrote a song that went to number one for another artist. It changed the sound for other artists. I read that ABBA said it influenced them to write “Dancing Queen” and John Lennon said he wished he’d written it himself. It influenced him to write “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.”” As the audience applauded KC continued. “It’s because of your belief in me that I was able to live the American dream! My first number one song was recorded by George McCray.” As the band began to play “Rock Your Baby,” all audience members rose to their feet to sing and dance along to this iconic 1970s dance hit.
With the crowd still on their feet the band performed “Give It Up,” KC’s groovin’ 1982 dance-pop comeback number. “We’re here to celebrate music because music brings people together,” KC shouted to the cheers of the fans. “But, what I want to know is…is that the way you like?” The audience responded with an abundance of enthusiasm as the band played “That’s the Way (I Like It),” from the band’s 1975 self-titled album. “We just released a new song and we are so happy to be here tonight to share it with you,” KC informed the crowd. As a Christmas gift to the KC and The Sunshine Band fans, the band released a fabulous remix of “Last Christmas,” Wham’s iconic Christmas number.
The performance ended where KC and The Sunshine Band really began, the first of their five Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hits, “Get Down Tonight,” from their 1975 debut album. While it’s been 50 years since the funky, rhythmic, disco dance beats of KC and The Sunshine Band first ignited the airwaves, this music remains beloved by those who continue to share in the joyful energy and spirit of the rhythmic drum beats and vibrant electric guitars, keyboards and horns. If KC and The Sunshine Band are passing through your town in 2024 and you’re yearning for some nostalgia, dance on down, you’ll happily be transported back to those glorious disco days.