During their late 70s peak, Parliament-Funkadelic’s touring party included a life-size spaceship and some two dozen musicians dressed in robes, nappies and other paraphernalia that generally constitute a shorthand for psychedelic madness.
Tonight, there’s only a projection of ‘The Mothership’. By the time a crew member sporting a garish furry suit hops on stage to bust out some acrobatics whilst a randomly shifting cavalcade of funkateers, MCs, singers and hype men conspire to whip out another razor-sharp groove that could well go on for light years without anyone complaining, it’s clear that George Clinton’s party-starting M.O. of barely contained, cosmic chaos remains otherwise essentially unchanged.
What’s more, the energy and commitment levels remain undimmed too. “S***! Goddamn! Get off your a** and jam!”, chant Clinton and co. at various stages of tonight’s exceedingly generous set. “Free your mind and your a** will follow,” Clinton adds. The near-capacity crowd readily comply with both instructions.
Starting as a doo-wop singer in the mid-50s and taking in songwriting duties at Motown in the 60s (as a snippet of soul evergreen Testify reminds us) before helping to lay the foundations of hip hop as the second most sampled artist of all time after James Brown (roughly half the tunes heard tonight herald the hook of a hit for the likes of Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre and De La Soul), Clinton’s career packs a dizzying array of activity and influence. However, it’s safe to assume that we’re primarily here to bask in the presence of the architect of P-Funk.
A fluid, indecently funky and frequently funny celebration of the groove, Clinton’s stubborn refusal to accept to genre barriers - initially confusing to the record-buying public, as was his enduring taste for the absurd - now seems like a stroke of inclusive genius. It’s rare to spot metal signs at funk gigs, but there are multiple devil’s horn salutes in the air during the three-way guitar jousting of Maggot Brain, starring the wailing of long-term P-Funk lieutenant Blackbyrd McKnight.
Having swapped the outlandish costumes and multi-colour hair-dos of the past for a sober grey suit, Clinton contributes mainly as a ringleader and hypeman-in-charge, conducting the extensive posse of co-conspirators with seemingly limitless reserves of enthusiasm that belie the fact 2015 marks his 60th anniversary as a musician. The fact that the star of the show is a relatively peripheral presence in the musical goings-on doesn’t really matter. The Parliament-Funkadelic ethos never adhered to the hierarchy of the star and his backing band; everyone – including an audience member invited on stage to boogie with the band – gets their fair share of the spotlight in this loosely scripted jam session that goes for just under three hours.
As guitar, sax and trumpet solos, even an extended bout of scat singing abound and bizarre lounge-jazz interludes interrupt the sweaty reverie conjured by evergreens such as Flashlight, Up for the Down Stroke, Cosmic Slop and Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, you occasionally end up wishing for a bit more discipline and order to the sprawling proceedings. However, it’s impossible to argue with such a disorientating wealth of the funk, the whole funk, nothing but the funk, as set-closing One Nation Under a Groove puts it. The 1978 smash eventually winds down, only for another jam to kick in, much to the chagrin of the venue staff who have seen the curfew fly by some time ago. You get the district impression that Clinton and co. would still be on stage now in order to, as another P-Funk classic aired tonight has it, tear the roof off the sucker, did rules and regulations not dictate otherwise.
Gig date: April 18