FOR THE FUNK OF IT
It was only a few years ago that George Clinton might have been listed among the casualties of the funk.
Outside the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh in May 2008, there appeared to be merit to legendary drug stories that invariably trail Dr. Funkenstein. Parliament Funkadelic was 30 minutes into their performance before Clinton himself finally appeared, and even then his disjointed presence projected a man that was a part of another gig happening somewhere far off. This was the George Clinton well known as Sly Stone’s No. 1 cut buddy, fronting one of the last eminently recognizable versions of Parliament Funkadelic in the physical sense, but nonetheless a band that was the genuine article; a force that Clinton had grown to be bigger than himself.
Saturday night at Ziggy’s, however, the new-look Clinton was as live as a 71-year old could be, even if the Parliament Funkadelic itself that descended looked almost nothing like the version that most retain. The passing of Garry Shider in 2010, one of the most recognizable accomplices to the ultra-cartoonish P-Funk Earth tour that endures as the visual representation of classic Parliament Funkadelic, left the band diaperless. Clinton himself stowed his trademark rainbow rooster wig shortly thereafter, but as he did so, adopted an edgier, more focused deportment.
Dressed in a stark white trench coat and dark fedora with his rhythm section in the backline, Clinton bounced to the thump of a “I Wanna Know if it’s Good to You” and “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” mash from the precipice of the stage. The crowd of just over 1,000 — as diverse a crowd as there could be with young, fratty types mixing among natty, aged rastas and suburban grown folks of all stripes — responded in kind, picking up Clinton’s raspy call-and-response as guitarist Ricky Rouse straddled the dividers to inject his incendiary riffs directly into the faces of the fortysomethings at the front. It was the first of countless solos, prolix, baritone-soaked narratives on the ontologies of funk and mortality, and pinpoint jams by an equally untold, revolving cast of players; when the Mothership rolls, it rolls deep and ugly.
There was Danny Bedrosian imparting Worrellian wizardry behind the keys so effectively it was impossible to triangulate the source of the canyonesque low end out of him, Lige Curry and Jeff Bunn; Benjamin Cowan in a HAZMAT tracksuit tirelessly manning the pocket; the tie-dyed head-to-toe William Payne with every conceivable size of hand shaker; and Kendra Foster, who was the sumptuous counterpart to D’Angelo during his surprise performance at Bonnaroo last summer, at the top of the vocal food chain. Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, the band’s most senior member outside of Clinton, hung back in the reserves until his heavy artillery was called upon; first for his apocalyptic version of “Maggot Brain” — as ethereal and possessed as Eddie Hazel’s version was melancholic — and to close the show with the gloriously shambolic hard funk masterpiece “Cosmic Slop.” Garrett Shider the younger assumed his father’s place at the front of “Mothership Connection (Starchild),” his breathy tenor imparting a little Memphis soul into the disco rag and his guitar style honest to the G-funk sound that the elder helped pioneer.
And that accounts for roughly half the cast. The more players Clinton threw out, the deeper into the cosmic wormhole the songs went. What began as the hardtack funk of “Atomic Dog” morphed into something else entirely in its 15-minute lifespan. Clinton, restive and really, really into it, did the Dougie, framed his jumpshots, lit up a blunt and saved his best for soliloquies too nasty to print. After all, no one ever said the funk was polite.