Clinton and P-Funk returned last night for another edition of their show. It's definitely a performance, and it's definitely musical, but it's unlike most other shows you're likely ever to have seen. It's as much cabaret as it is rock show, with 14+ people on stage at any given moment. There's a solid backing trio of keyboards, drums, and bass and then there's... well, everything else.
And by "everything else" I mean rappers and singers and "back-up" singers about whom more in a moment, and Clinton himself and horn players and other vocalists and percussionists and one gentleman who has, let me tell you, not one ounce of fat ANYWHERE on his lithe and very gymnastic body. With that many people on stage it sometimes leads to amusing miscues but the group have toured and practiced together so much that they manage the transitions and hand-offs with aplomb. The only major stumble I saw was due to the sound system not working properly.
Clinton leads the ensemble, doing a bit of singing, some dancing and jumping around (pretty spry for a big man of 75 years) but mostly he's the impresario: bringing people on, encouraging attention to one place or another, getting the audience riled up. He's like the best combination of a rock star, cheerleader, and grandfather who never lost the love of what he's doing.
The performance went for an hour non-stop before the first break and then another hour+ of almost continuous play after that with shifting performers and styles. Around midnight-fifteen the venue shut off the sound system and turned on the house lights and we finally went home.
Notable highlights in this show:
- the aforementioned back-up singers, two of whom did a really nice soul-infused duet. Lovely voices, but the sound mix wasn't helping them a lot.
- the OTHER back-up singer, a skinny woman who spent the entire 2.5+ hours in some very high platform boots and whose solo performance would not have been out of place in a strip club (just sayin') except for the part where she was singing while gyrating. Balance, grace, and a sweet vocal range - also really nice.
- a saxophone player whose name I sadly did not catch because dude was AMAZING. His range, speed, precision, and sustains were all out of this world. And then he put down the sax and sang lead, quite ably. There was also a trumpet player who on another stage would have been good but placed next to this sax genius, well, I'm not sure anyone could have measured up.
- TWO extended solos from Blackbyrd McKnight. He's one of the few remaining traces of the old Parliament Funkadelic and he's just insanely good at what he does. His solos were incendiary, a throwback to old-school Clapton and Hendrix and Page. And yes, he did actually play the guitar with his teeth at one point, as if to prove he could do that, too. Last show I remember him kind of sitting out much of the first part while he fussed with his guitar only to blow away the stage and audience once he got rolling. Seeing him hit that mile-high groove again was awesome.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the opener: The Nephrok Allstars, whom I'd heard of before through kit_holliday and had watched videos but never seen live. Like most funk acts, Nephrok is much better live than recorded. They did a strong set with Nephrok himself giving some of the verbal vibe that I remember from the earliest P-Funk days.
---------- Music history aside ----------
Back in the dark ages, funk music and particularly P-Funk with its weird sci-fi-esque mothership and space alien vibe (see also Sun Ra) positioned itself as a force for intergalactic harmony and peace. At a moment in time when many Black voices were speaking anger (Nation of Islam, Black Panthers) funk artists stood up to deliver a "we are all one" message. It's something that has always stuck with me.
So last night Nephrok talked to the audience about being "love soldiers" - active, not passive - and paying attention to what was going on in the world. He did a song for Syria and pointed out that even though he doesn't personally know many Syrians it's still something that should touch us all deeply. He reminded people that we are all children of Abraham. Funk music and (Black) politics have always been entwined in my brain and I'm glad to see modern funk artists carrying on that tradition too.