To really, fully understand the world of Parliament-Funkadelic, you first have to immerse yourself in the mythology that George Clinton has created.Members of the band include such personas as Starchild, Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk and Kidd Funkadelic, all with various back-stories that weave into the legend of the funk.As usual, the band laid it all out when they took it to the stage Friday night at the House of Blues.
Parliament and Funkadelic are two different, distinct bands that both epitomize different aspects of Clinton’s vision of funk.Parliament was the bombastic, horn-driven party funk with outlandish outfits and themes, singing about mothership connections and clones of Dr. Funkenstein.Funkadelic was the grooving guitar funk, with wailing solos, long instrumentals and occasionally serious undertones.In their current formation they operate as the same band with interchanging personnel with as many as 15 people on stage at a time as singers, guitarists, keyboardists, horn players and drummers all add in to the swirl of funk with Clinton waltzing through it all.
The show opened with a chant of “P-Funk wins again in 2010” until bandleader and guitarist Gary Shider took the stage in his Starchild jacket which he quickly shed, playing the entire show dressed only in a large diaper.Shider led the band through “Funkentelechy” from Parliament’s 1977 album Funkentelchy vs. The Placebo Syndrome, a record that the band returned to more than once throughout the night.
As Starchild continued to lead the band, Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk hit the stage in his pimp costume to try and defeat the funk.Shider, with the helpful encouragement of the audience, forced Sir Nose to dance, a gimmick that P-Funk includes as a message that the funk is for everyone.
Soon after, the man himself staggered his way onto the stage. Clinton, now 70 years old, refers to himself as the referee of the circus that is his legacy. At this point in his career he mainly does auxiliary vocals and presides over his congregation of funkateers. It’s hard to tell if Clinton really has any control over the group these days, as at one point he told the crowd “yeah, I’m f—ed up” and rapped a few lines of Lil Wayne’s “Get Low,” but the type of organization that the band conveys cannot come easy.
P-Funk’s brand of music is at once simple and complex, full of repetitive chants and music lines that intertwine, echo, answer and weave through each other, all on top of a thick and juicy low end that simply oozes funk.The band might be one of the few that cannot be listened to without getting up and dancing.
And when Clinton took the stage, the band ratcheted up the intensity, swinging through Parliament classics such as “Bop Gun (Endangered Species),” “Flash Light” and “Aqua Boogie,” which featured Clinton cawing like a bird throughout. The group referenced a number of other aspects of the P-Funk culture, such as mid-song chants from other songs and a saxophone solo that doubled the vocal line from the song “P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up).”
The presence of saxophone and trumpet players allowed the band to stretch out, and it jammed songs out for longer than usual before transitioning seamlessly. The extended “Freak of the Weak” > “(Not Just) Knee Deep” > “Freak of the Week” from Funkadelic’s 1979 effort Uncle Jam Wants You was a great showcase.
The band left the stage to Kidd Funkadelic, aka guitarist Michael Hampton, to perform the long, moody solo “Maggot Brain,” the title track to Funkadelic’s second album. Originally recorded by late Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel, Hampton did it justice, building a 10-minute solo before the rest of the band trickled back on stage for the climactic ending.
Playing for three full hours with no set break and barely a break between songs, P-Funk tried to fit in as much fat, groovy funk as they could. A half-hour long “Bounce To This” closed out the show, as the band walked off stage inauspiciously, not returning for an encore.
A P-Funk show can be bizarre and strange &- it’s not every day that people pay to see a sixty-year-old man prance around in a diaper for three hours &- but it never fails to be fun. As the night went on, the House of Blues crowd began thinning out, leaving more room for the true funkateers to dance and move to the thick grooves coming from the stage. The tight P-Funk machine, with its own mythology, language, and way of life, has so many converts now, forty years after its beginnings as a doo-wop group, that it’s difficult to imagine George Clinton as anything other than a genius who attempted to &- and succeeded at &- creating a nation united under a groove.