By: Devin Lawrence, Zack Holbrook
“Funk is a force that tore the roof off the sucka that is modern music.” -Prince
We’re all very aware of the trope which typifies the band that hit their peak several decades ago, yet continue to perform and tour despite their aggressive mediocrity, having lost whatever chemistry brought them together originally, so far divorced from their original selves, brittle husks of who they used to be. I am still unsure how Lynyrd Skynyrd is still a Band With Members, given that the greater half of the band died in a plane crash, and Sublime with Rome has always struck me as a strange joke played by a kid showing sadistic cruelty to their Sims in The Sims 4. I’m 90% sure that The Unicorns briefly reunited with Arcade Fire to get that sweet opener cash. Would it be cynical to assume that Parliament-Funkadelic, with George Clinton being 76 years of age, has fallen in the same trap? Is it a passionless shut-up-and-play-the-hits-and-leave-for-the-next-venue situation?
You would be cynical and embarrassingly wrong. Woe unto you, thou of little faith! Funk is a powerful force, and I pray this review serves as an effective epistle to you, the reader, on the vitality of George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic.
My concert buddy & I weren’t aware of an opener, but that’s what we assumed what was happening at around 10pm, when someone started rapping over someone else beatboxing into a didgeridoo. The whole situation seemed alien and generally bemusing, until suddenly there were looped finger-snaps playing (likely off of a laptop), then suddenly someone’s behind the drums, and someone’s on guitar. Things started to make sense. My gearhead housemate beside me broke a key detail:
“That amp costs, like, $5K at least, either they’re using Parliament-Funkadelic’s gear or they know what they’re fucking doing.”
It turned out to be a bit of both. Another guy came on stage to rap, providing some verses, but mostly doing auxiliary rapping things, like ad-libs, or rapping out the last few syllables of a bar with the first guy. I later found out that the first performer to come out was George Clinton of Parliament-Funkadelic’s grandson Tra’zae, who managed to get the crowd moving upon the realization that this wasn’t a lousy gimmick, this kid’s got a decent flow and sounds good live!
Before the crowd could get upset about this strange Lack of George Clinton at the Show That Advertised George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, a somewhat aged man came onstage wearing a postman’s cap with angular iridescent jewelery affixed to it with an avant-garde white jacket that would look absolutely ridiculous on anyone else; he gave Tra’zae an affirming hug for getting the crowd decently warmed up. Suddenly, we see touring members of the great mothership Parliament-Funkadelic – a couple of singers who danced in minimalist goth outfits, a couple of guitarists (one of which I’m guessing was Garrett Shider), a bassist (who I assume to be Lige Curry), the drummer, a couple of people on brass. The Godfather of Funk had arrived in our small humble town.
I’m still not sure with what exact song the set opened with. Suffice to say it was a solid jam, not that I could make out any solid lyrics beyond the crowd chanting “Shit! Goddamn! Get off your ass and jam!” An educated guess was that what they started off with had “Get Off Your Ass And Jam” integrated into the true song live, given that the song ended with a few shouts that had the words “new single” in there somewhere. This marked a general tendency on my end to be unable to figure out a solid setlist. Either the lines between one distinct song and another were blurred, or we were in a situation where songs were stretched beyond their recorded length. Maybe some of column A, maybe some of column B, maybe both, maybe neither! It’s hard to say or care, given that you can’t help but get off your ass and jam to “Give Up The Funk (Tear Off The Sucker)” and forget what you were thinking about earlier.
The show pulsed with a vitality and camaraderie that flowed through the whole crowd. The crowd was one of the nicest I’ve ever had the pleasure of dancing with, completely lacking drunk monsters who have a tendency to shove anyone within a 30 foot range, no one getting too far into anyone else’s personal space. I noticed that early on those closest to the stage were relatively short, which I’ll assume were the crowd’s tall people wanting shorter people to be able to see Clinton & company. The intergenerational quality of the attendance confirmed that the funk is for everyone to enjoy, from college brats like me who had just turned 21 to the dudes far from middle-age who were still going hogwild to hits like “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up).” You could see the crowd move, not quite in formation or unison, but heads bobbing & rolling in an ocean of groove, or also be still and transfixed by a super intense saxophone solo. Someone would yell for people to put their hands up, and by god, you’d suddenly find yourself in a veritable sea of hands, waving to the music. If George Clinton told you to clap your hands, you could feel the collective force of other people’s hands clapping with yours. The show was lush in moments for anyone to go buckwild out of excitement, from the moment you realize the dude playing tambourine was now singing Maggot Brain cut “Super Stupid”, to George Clinton borrowing the hooks to “Get Low” by Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz or “I Don’t F*** With You” by Big Sean & E-40. I practically lost my mind over hearing “Maggot Brain.” The amount of call & response in the show was heavy, whether it be the audience singing along to the chorus, having us clap to the beat, raise up the horns, and with every instance someone waggled their fingers to get the crowd to get louder, I’d get more invested in the show.
Perhaps it can be attested that Parliament-Funkadelic isn’t necessarily a band, but more of a brilliant collective that’s headed by George Clinton. By his own guesstimate, there’s around 75 people in the P-Funk family. There are serious people who leave their mark (R.I.P. Eddie Hazel), but the music clearly belongs to everyone, as long as Clinton’s still conducting this musical crazy train. You can see just how many people make up the P-Funk experience on George Clinton’s website, & not all 70 something were on stage. The members which scattered the stage ranged from those barely entering middle school, to those who witnessed the original Parliament’s first performcnce, but it was clear everyone there was a part of P-Funk. P-Funk seems to be open to all ages, as everyone’s invited! Perhaps that keeps P-Funk from growing stale, with new blood maintaining the vitality of the live show. There’s no “optimal lineup” or combination of P-Funk members as far as I’m aware, there’s just P-Funk as it is, one nation under a groove.
For every part of the show that I could expect came parts I wouldn’t expect. I did not expect any serious rapping over a man beatboxing into a didgeridoo. I did not expect to see a character that I now know as The Nose (presumably Carlos McMurray) to show up at the stage in the middle of the set, dressed in beautiful white fur clothes & a belt that spelled out “Nose” in massive cartoon letters (perhaps in rhinestone), sass the crowd with pursed lips, giving us a thumbs-down for not being live enough, throw off his jacket, & proceed to perform some acrobatic stunts on the speakers. There were a few breaks from the funk for some slower R&B songs, but you wouldn’t expect “Get Low”, a trap-inflected song off Funkadelic’s most recent album, to translate so well to a live performance, and you wouldn’t expect the heavy metal interlude that came straight out of left field, supprising the whole crowd.
“Funk not only moves, it can re-move, dig?” – Lollipop Man
Parliament-Funkadelic live is nothing short of spectacular. Through the show, in spite of my bad back and sore feet that usually bedevil me for shows, I genuinely felt healed. The intoxicating atmosphere had me bedazzled until they ended with “Atomic Dog.” I don’t understand some things about the show, whether or not time was dilated in The Catalyst, if I was actually sore or not, or how in the hell George Clinton’s outlived Prince, Bowie, Rick James, let alone how he’s managed to stay awake after hustling through a two hour set.
Here is what I can take away from the show in good confidence: George Clinton for President. If I could ever afford a car in my life, let me put that bumper sticker on it.