George Clinton and the U.S Funk Mob are still on the road and their show is extremely tight and funky. I went down and inspected them for funkiness at Yoshi’s in San Francisco last night, and my clothes are so funky I’ll probably have to burn them. I’ve reviewed a P-Funk show on riquespeaks before, last year, and that review spoke to how funky, tight, and slick the band has been recently. The shows they gave this past week at Yoshi’s both met and exceeded the standards the Mob has been upholding the past five years or so.
Calvin caught the Friday night show, one I was unable to attend due to other commitments, and he basically made it a must that I catch this series of gigs. The band played one of my favorite P-Funk records of the 1980s that night, Xavier’s “Work that Sucker to Death.” That is a record I never thought I’d hear P-Funk perform. He also raved about the version of “Funkentelechy” he heard , as well as the way they approached the Parliaments first hit song, “Testify.” The impressive things were both the way George and the band were approaching their volumnious catalog, pulling goodies out of Dr. Funkenstein’s bag that go beyond the handful of huge hits everybody knows and loves, and also the fact they were performing them RIGHT. P-Funk’s recordings were highly sophisticated, multi tracked artifacts that featured multiple rhythmic lines, synthesizers, horns, multiple guitar tracks and male and female chorus style vocals. In short, they can be terribly hard to reproduce on stage. That might not matter to the casual fan, because no matter how big of a sucker you are, you will dance at a P-Funk show, any P-Funk show. But it does factor in for those of us who fell in love with the intracacies of P-Funk music through their major recordings. That was no problem at all at the gig I saw last night.
As per my usual M.O, Calvin and I caught the late show at Yoshi’s. I overheard the first show and the band was absolutely murdering another P-Funk classic I don’t often hear, 1978’s “Agua Boogie”. The opening act was George’s grandsons group. I didn’t quite understand the name of the band, but I know the leader is named Tracey Lewis Jr, his father being Treylewd, George’s son. The band consisted of Tracey, a drummer, a guitarist, a dude who seemed to control the sequences and loops, and a dude who sang and played the Digeredoo. Yes, he was on stage with a Digeredoo! He played it in a rhythmic manner that often augmented the drum beat. I actually thought the bands music was extremely good, they achieved a mix of head nodding, Timbaland style start and stop hip hop, mixed with instrumental funkiness and the unique rhythmic and melodic textures of the Digeredoo. Tracey Lewis rapping was also witty, fast paced, highly rhythmic, and well executed. I thought the bands presence spoke to George’s career long nurturing of innovation. The band had the Yoshi’s audience bopping and added a good hip hop flavor to the Funk that would come later.
P-Funk took the stage promptly and without hesitating launched into 1974’s “Cosmic Slop.” The song has always been one of my favorites, from the rock/funk main riff, to Gary Shider’s original falsetto vocals, to the touching ghetto story told through the lyrics. There was something about the song that hit me in particular last night, the terrifiying march of the riff conjuring up some feeling I hadn’t had in a long time. It was also deep to hear the lyric, “I can hear my mother call”, on a night that would move into Mother’s Day.
P Funk shows at Yoshi’s are fast paced affairs. Part of the fun is seeing how P Funk is going to squeeze their extra long uncut funk into Yoshi’s sleek and chic silk underwear. Somehow they manage to do it very well, while flashing voluptous grooves, round bass, and curfew testing song lengths. The very next song they eased into was the all time funk classic, “One Nation Under a Groove.” They began it in fine gospel style, with the keyboardist playing church style chords and Gary Shiders son, Garrett, engaging the audience in revival style call and response. I’ve seen numerous videos of the late great Gary Shider doing “One Nation”, often beginning with the question, “Is this One Nation?” Garrett does his daddy proud. The intro served to build the anticipation to such a level that when the songs gospeldelic funky bassline kicked in, it felt like an ice cream cone on a hot day in the Congo. The audience sang along en masse to one of my favorite P-Funk lyrics, “Ready or not/Here we come/getting down on/the One/which we believe in.”
The next song was “Flashlight.” That’s how fast P-Funk was moving last night. They went into a series of songs that I had yet to hear live. The heavy rock vibes of Funkadelic were represented by “Alice in My Fantasies” and “Red Hot Mama.” “Alice in My Fantasies” got the crowd up and rocking hard, as did “Red Hot Mama.” Ricky Rouse scorched the building with lead guitar soloing, full of feedback and power. “Red Hot Mama” ended with a super funky breakdown highlighting the songs chicken pecking ending rhythm guitar riff.
The Parliament side was well covered by “P-Funk Wants to Get Funked Up”, for which Foley joined the band on drums. Foley was in Miles Davis last bands as the “Lead Bassist”, for which he strung a guitar with bass strings. He has more recently joined P-Funk as a drummer, and he took over on “P-Funk’s” jazzy drum work. Of course, the whole audience was chanting “Make My Funk the P-Funk, I wants to get funked up!” Of course, from that, the California green began to be consumed even more copiously and George got in on the party, of course. George’s granddaughter Shonda came forward to do “Something Stank and I want some.” At that point, the show moved from James Brown tightness to ’60s rock band grooviness. The Mob moved from that to their mid ’00s record, “Hard as Steel (and still getting harder), which was backed with a thunderous riff that the whole band hit in unison, and was exactly as Viagra rigid as the lyrics promised.
Two of the ultimate Parliament records were played, one being “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker). Jeff “Cherokee” Bunn came up to play Bootsy’s classic bass line on that number, and then went into a bass solo that included quotations from Funkadelics classic “Cholly (Funk Getting Ready to Roll).
They also performed the ultimate Parliament record, the one that got it all started, “Testify”. “Testify” brought another kind of gospel, ’60s soul energy to the house that night. It was great to hear George sing it and to hear the band authentically nail such a mean ’60s soul groove, which is something I don’t get to hear live too often these days. It was motivation to break out my best Temptation walk. “Testify” might have been my high point of the night, for George’s impassioned vocal.
They ended of course with the largest hit of the P-Funk All Stars, “Atomic Dog”. All in all it was a great show that left me wanting more. P Funk’s current show is a show that is suitable both for Maggots, Freaks, Funkateers, and Virgins. The tight playing of the classic songs will impress somebody to whom you’ve bragged about how much they will enjoy P-Funk live, while the performing of songs such as “Alice in My Fantasies”, “Red Hot Mama”, and “Testify”, on any given night, will get the blood circulating in those who may have thought they’d lost that funky feeling. P Funk is on fire right now! Go see ’em!