If you’re a funkateer of any stripe, it’s a rite of passage to see George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic live. No matter how much bad press you may hear about the sloppiness of the band, or how the songs drag on too slowly, or that some of George’s uncut funk might could use a little trimming, there is no substitute to stomping your feet and shaking your ass real time with the U.S Funk Mob.
The desire to be a part of the P-Funk live experience is one that was passed down, like an appreciation of fine wines, from my elders. Being in attendance at the original arrival of the mothership is a generation marker for many akin to “where were you when Kennedy was shot?” The Bay Area, like Los Angeles, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, New Jersey, and especially Washington D.C, is one of the true P-Funk strongholds in this country. Part of P-Funk’s legendary, “P-Funk Earth Tour” LP was recorded at the Oakland Coliseum, on which the late Glen Goins can be heard intoning “Oakland, do you want to ride?” There’s also the tale of a lineup at the Oakland Coliseum, an outdoor funk fest that featured the Bar Kays, Cameo (in the year they released “I Just Want to Be”), our own local heroes Con Funk Shun, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and Parliament Funkadelic.
As with any “legendary” musical group, it can be hard to live up to this type of legacy. The first time I saw P-Funk in 2005, I must admit I was disapointed. I caught them at the Filmore, in San Francisco. That year was supposed to be a big year in P-Funk history, some sort of anniversary. I remember it was special because Bootsy Collins actually was with the group on that tour. Bootsy came out with a thunderous version of “Up for the Down Stroke.” Leaning on the Filmore’s history as a legendary rock venue, the band leaned heavily on Funkadelic’s rock side that night. Something about that gig just didn’t do it for me though. I had a good time, but the experience couldn’t quite live up to my bootleg tapes of all those old tours.
Then in 2011, I saw Bootsy Collins perform a set with his band for the first time. That show really rekindled my desire to feel P-Funk live, for the simple fact that it was very tight and delivered P-Funk and Bootsy classics with as much or more vitality than the recorded versions. Songs like “Flashlight” and “One Nation” were done in a better fashion for me than they were done at the earlier P-Funk show I’d seen because they were done with the new Mini Moog Voyager keyboard and at a tempo that was very close to the tempo’s they were recorded with.
A few months after that, around Independence Day of that year, I had the chance to see P-Funk at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland. The funk was right this time. George Clinton had unveiled a new image, in slick suits, with his hair laid down in coal black waves. It was reminiscent of the bands genesis as the Parliaments, and also an image George had adopted around 1980, during the “Trombipulation” album. George Clinton has always maintained his roots as a barber/hair stylist inform his attitude of musical styles, that a change in musical styles can be as simple as changing your hair do and clothes. This was true when Parliament was a doo-wop, soul, Temptations styled group and had to change clothes to get into the hippie, mod, phsychedelic music of Funkadelic, and the freaked out arena Funk vibe of the glory years.
Well, George’s new doo review proved to be a super tight one. That particular night they opened with “Funkentelechy”, with the bass player totally nailing one of my favorite bass lines of all time. Hits like “Atomic Dog”, “Flashlight”, and “One Nation”, were laid down with an accuracy that was felt by heads, hearts, hips, and feet.
So it was on and crackin from then. I resolved I’d see P-Funk every chance I got, and enjoy this national treasure while we still have it. With that in mind, me and my running partner Kenny Route hit Yoshi’s up last Friday night. I was mad I missed the last P-Funk show in the Bay Area, about four or five months ago, mainly because two of my homegirls, Angelina and Gi Gi got to dance on stage with George Clinton during “Atomic Dog” in a momment that is preserved for posterity on YouTube. It was dope to see two of my favorite ladies getting down with one of my favorite dudes, George Clinton!
Kenny Route chose to see Earth, Wind & Fire instead of P-Funk back in the ’70s, and he said the EWF show was great, but he always missed out on seeing P-Funk with all his relatives and friends. I always feel like in a way that might be a blessing too, because as bad as P-Funk was in 1977, great songs like “Atomic Dog”, “Aqua Boogie”, “(Not Just) Knee Deep”, and “One Nation Under a Groove”, were yet to come. There is something special about catching a musical group when the bulk of their legacy has already been done. It’s almost like hearing/seeing/feeling your whole life in one night.
The show was opened in Funkadelic mode with the throbbing, pounding, bluesy, soulful field holler for peace, “Me and My Folks”, from 1971’s “Maggot Brain” LP. “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”, the P-Funk chorus moaned as the drummer whopped the audience upside their complacency witha rock hard beat, with a bass jam spread on top of it like beddings in a hospital. This is one of my favorite deep cuts and one I never thought I’d hear live, and even though all of the audience might not have been familiar with it, it was the perfect intro to the concept of “one nation under a groove.”
The Mob let the first song draw out until all the soul that could be had was had, and then funked on to “The Goose”, from 1974’s “Up for the Down Stroke.” That LP was one of the first P-Funk albums I ever bought, on tape, from the old Leopold’s records in Berkeley. My friend Calvin was juiced because it’s a P-Funk record from the catalog you don’t hear often. The groove was mesmerizing as blunts were passed all through the audience, and by the end of the song, the P-Funk horn players Bennie Cowan and Greg Thomas were inserting the riffs frrom Al Green’s “Love and Happiness”, which was one of a few Al Green/Memphis themes introduced by P-Funk on that night. The chant from Bootsy Collins’ “The Pinnochio Theory” found it’s way into the end of the song too, which gave Robert “P-Nut” Johnson, one of Bootsy’s singers who was present on this night, a chance to shine. P-Funk also found ways to squeeze in the chants to “Unfunky UFO” and “Up for the Down Stroke” as well.
The way George does his show now reminds me of Chuck Brown and D.C go-go music. Many people wonder what George’s contribution to P-Funk was in a musical sense, but he is one of the most phenomenal creators of phrases, lyrics, and hooks in American music. There are so many chants and catchphrases, they could never perform them all as songs in their entirety. So, they go the route of Chuck Brown, playing the same beat and layering various chants and choruses from the P-Funk song book over whatever beat is going. It got me fired up just to hear these bits and pieces of songs over a funky beat, much more so than to hear bits and pieces of songs in the manner of say, James Brown’s concert medly’s.
They bumped right up on from that into “Flashlight.” Calvin let me know it was going o be a shorter show for real if they were going into that, and in reality, not counting the bits and pieces of all the chants, P-Funk only did 10 songs that night. And only 8 were actual P-Funk songs. I did understand it was the third night of a three night engagement, and at 72, you might not gain strength on your third day, but George Clinton was by no means a weak link, as he had a truckload of energy on that night. “Flashlight” came off hard, as the keyboardist used the Minimoog Voyager synthesizer, a recent version of the keyboard the original “Flashlight” was recorded on, to play Bernie Worrell’s famous bassline. That was interesting because even in the classic years after “Flashlight” came out, P-Funk usually used a live bassist to play the bassline. On this night however, the bass was played by the keyboardist and Jeff “Cherokee” Bunn, bass player for the Brides of Funkenstien, augmented the bass line with his bass guitar.
The P-Funk horns included one of my absolute favorite horn riffs into the coda to “Flashlight”, Eddie Harris jazz classic, “Freedom Jazz Dance”, recorded by such people as Miles Davis, Charles Earland, and Brian Auger.
P-Funk is well aware of the bad rap they’ve gotten from time to time, because Clip Payne at one point announced “Ya’ll were expecting to see some old guy in a Mu-Mu with some multicolored dreads weren’t you?” Which spoke volumes to people expecting the image and shows George gave us in the ’90s shows. But this was not that, this was real true blue P-Funk brought by a group of talented men and women who know what their funkateers epect of them.
The next day, Calvin and myself went to the hotel where P-Funk was staying to interview Jeff “Cherokee Bunn.” “Cherokee” was really deep, really spiritual, and very welcoming as well. I also got to shyly/slyly say “hi” to fine miss Kendra Foster, but that’s neither here nor there, we got a great interview with Cherokee that will be in a future post. As a coincidence, the hotel they were staying at was within eyesight of the Oakland Coliseum, site of many P-Funk triumphs in the past. They may no longer be rocking Coliseums and Arena’s like that, but their funk is back streamlined and arena sized for sure.
Last December at Yoshi’s SF, my friend Angelina dancing with George, and my friend Gi-Gi dancing with Sir Nose, captured by Evol Knight
Video I recorded last Friday, Greg Thomas leading the crowd in th scat solo on “(Not Just) Knee Deep”
P-Funk doing “The Goose” at Yoshi’s
Soulschool interview Calvin Lincoln did with Greg Thomas of P-Funk