George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Brooklyn Academy of Music- 1/7
Around this time last year, a Tallahassee police officer walked up to a smoke-filled car in a gas station parking lot and found a 63 year old black man with multicolored dreadlocks smoking a crack pipe as if it were a cigar. He asked the man if he had anything in his pocket, and the man replied sheepishly: "I've got a little cocaine". No-one ever bothered to mention whether the officer recognized this space oddity as the mind that revolutionized modern funk, infusing James Brown's scaffolding with a psychedelic virtuosity, Bowie glam-rock aesthetic and Stooges punk sensibility.
While no-one wants to dig up old skeletons, if you can imagine how that officer must have felt in the moment- shocked, amused, a bit surreal, slightly saddened, strangely impressed – then you probably have a pretty good idea of what it's like to watch a P-Funk performance circa 2005. Now take that emotional composite and add to it the final absurdity of the venue being the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a relatively opulent Opera House whose hallway lights flash politely before each set and alcoholic beverages are nixed within the auditorium, and you have the first gig of the band's new tour.
Bernie Worrell and the band's guest violinist, clad in Catholic schoolgirl attire, offered an opening nod to the academy in the form of a murky, dramatic classical interlude, anchored by Worrell's orchestral keys and highlighting the eclecticism, aesthetic as well as sonic, that made it legendary. The interaction segues fluidly into a jam framing Michael "Kid Funkadelic" Hampton's impressive guitar vamps, dark , heavy and bruising, which seems to appropriate the early metal residue of Worell's Mule dalliances. A few songs, later, with stage cast growing progressively larger, Clinton emerges in the midst of "Bop Gun", and the party begins, with all funky hell breaking loose. "To the window, to the wall, till the sweat runs down my balls" he cries, embracing the band's new sophisticated surroundings with anticipated indifference. The rant, just one instance of a hip-hop embroidered night that veers from these smaller interjections to Wu-Tang influenced, nonsensically violent rants ("Ill put my foot so far up…...", well, you get the idea), cascades into the quintessential Funk anthem, with Clinton stumbling down the main aisle amidst the audience virtually attacked by tweaked out-hipsters and middle aged white women.
The set, one uninterrupted medley of P-Funk classics which never stops as much as slows like a rollercoaster cart before bursting back into the frenetic speed to which it is more accustomed, is nothing less than aesthetic phenomenon, an acid flashback without the damage. Some twisted cross between a rock show and a Broadway musical, a three ring circus cast swells to over twenty, including hula-hoop girls, MC's, pimps, and other characters whose roles are a bit too abstract to categorize. In the midst of a take on Flashlight, Shonda Clinton emerges, launching abruptly into a freestyle oratory detailing her love for marijuana which inspires her grandfather so much he feels obliged to light up a fan-procured joint right there on stage, which, while being entertaining on one level, seems rather unjust considering the fact that we aren't even allowed alcohol.
To be a celebrity…
The rap provides a neat segue into a congruent one outlining her preferences for penis size, justly ambitious, from "6 inches to a yard"(which is average in P-Funk's universe), a cum-Lil Kim diatribe which a visibly uncomfortable Clinton finds considerably less amusing, pantomiming shock and covering his ears before snatching the microphone back from his laughing granddaughter. Of the two relatively unparalleled stage moments, the more entertaining is the phenomenon of an appalled George Clinton, and we should have known it would take another family member to do the job.
Less entertaining is watching a fifty-plus year old man in a diaper, as well as the relative obscurity of Bernie Worrell, who after the introductory stages of the show seems relatively bored throughout the night, playing many of his parts nonchalantly with one hand while looking over his shoulder. The band's most talented instrumentalist, Worrell is also perhaps necessarily its most non-descript, oftentimes simply disappearing backstage and bringing the much of the character and texture along with him. The upshot, though not always entirely compensatory, is that the vacuum places an even greater focus on Clinton's singular stage presence, framing a series of jams which cleave to the syncopated heart of the band's identity while showcasing it's variegated musical consciousness.
Ultimately, no band strips the guilt away from excess like Funkadelic; no band, save maybe the Flaming Lips, infuses the idea with more natural benevolence. Consequently, no band has ever thrown a better party. Besides, where else can you see a revolutionary funk band play a show in an opera house and close with a Jerry Lee Lewis number ("Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On) that has the whole spectrum, from drug casualties to conservative middle aged couples, rolling in the aisles. Clinton is a freak of nature, a Mickey Hart/James Brown science experiment in musical longevity gone horribly right, as perpetually endearing as the shrugging, wolfish ease with which he embraces his own eccentricity. "Why must I be like that? Why must I chase the cat?" he moans grinning devilishly in the penultimate "Atomic Dog". "Aint nothing but the dog in me".
God bless George Clinton. God bless all Clintons who are wacked out, who are funny and intelligent enough to be upfront about it. May he never realize his age.