His rainbow hair may be gone and his clothes now conservative, but no one brings the funk the way George Clinton brings the funk as Jason Gross saw at BAM. (Photo by Jason Gross)
All photos by Jason Gross
Question: Even at age 73, who’s funkier than George Clinton?
As if to prove it, the music legend just completed two live shows in New York City, one on Wednesday night in Queens and one in Brooklyn Thursday afternoon. His musical creations, the R&B-heavy Parliament and the guitar-rock vehicle Funkadelic and their ultimate merger as P-Funk, were some of the most mind-blowing, experimental, insane dance music of the 1970s and beyond.
With more members than both houses of Congress passing through their ranks, George Clinton remains not just the leader and mastermind, but also the constant driving force, helping to nurture generation after generation of funk, R&B and rap performers (who judiciously sample his music and collaborate with him). And it’s not like he’s slowing down now; at the end of last year, not only did Clinton come out with his autobiography, but he also put out a Funkadelic triple album (“First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate”). After all, why should a mad genius grow old gracefully?
The Brooklyn show was part of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) R&B Festival, which last week featured African music master Bassekou Kouyate, who I wrote about for TheBlot.
A perfect sunny day welcomed the funksters, which included a dozen-plus band members featuring singers, horns and multiple keyboards. At the helm, as always, was Uncle George, who’s ditched his trademark multi-colored hairdo for a dapper tan suit (it was announced to the crowd that they would not find the “rainbow hair” guy during the show that day).
Though he was usually the center of attention, Clinton was more than happy to let the band members and other singers take the spotlight, often conducting them and even the crowd during singalongs. At times, he did cop a squat on a chair back near the drummer, but he would soon be on his feet leading the band and the crowd or flapping his arms like bird, sticking his tongue out all over the place and making a glorious menace of his himself and generally just having a great time.
If you haven’t had the privilege of seeing P-Funk in action, well, we just feel sorry for you — even seeing them a few times isn’t enough. It’s always a rousing experience for the body, your butt and your soul.
Clinton shows off his stew of influences, going back to R&B/doo-wop vocal stylings, jazzy horns and scat singing, hard-rock guitar solos and, of course, funk (James Brown was being played over the speakers before and after the show to drive home the point). Clinton is happy to let band’s players and singers take the lead stop, too, leading the crowd in applauding them or even putting his mic up to them or their speaker for emphasis.
Like most P-Funk shows, the set leaned heavier on Parliament hits than Funkadelic classics. Extended versions Me Decades classics like “One Nation Under A Groove,” “Flash Light,” “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker),” “Mothership Connection (Star Child),” “P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” and “Up for the Down Stroke” were trotted out alongside the string-bending feature from Funkadelic “Red Hot Mama” and Clinton’s 1982 solo hit “Atomic Dog” (“bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yah!”) and a newer tune that name-checked planets and Bruno Mars (get the joke?). Fun always follows the funk in George’s world.
Near the end of the hour-and-a-half set, Clinton was getting really funky, sweating up a storm through his nice suit, but there was a special guest on the scene to take up some slack: Sir Nose D’ Void of Funk, a part of the P-Funk mythology, here played by Clinton’s personal assistant Carlos McMurray. Sir Nose did get the funk, stripping down from his pimp-tastic outfit to reveal his well-sculpted body, which contorted all over the stage and on top of the speakers.
After Clinton bid us goodbye, the band insisted that there was more to come and sure enough, P-Funk veteran guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight tore through a few minutes of Funkadelic’s harrowing “Cosmic Slop” as an instrumental. Keysman Michael “Clip” Payne, who served as something of an unofficial emcee, thanked Brooklyn for its kindness, and the band was really gone for good, at least from that stage. For the rest of the summer, it’ll be tirelessly trekking across the East Coast and then Europe. Clearly, the funk is everywhere.
Seeing is believing, so check out more pictures from George Clinton’s BAM show below, plus a video of him letting loose.
Jason Gross is a the social media manager for TheBlot Magazine.