And by the time Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame legend George Clinton and his P-Funk entourage left the stage at the end of what wound up being a 90-minute funk lesson, the thousands of people who filled the outdoor venue at Grant Park during the annual “Taste Of Chicago” food and entertainment festival might have thought they were being beamed up to the cosmos with the Mothership as it blasted off for its next stop.
P-Funkateers of all colors, ages, shapes and sizes whose collective motto on this night was “make my funk the P-Funk, I wants to get funked up,” got exactly what they asked for and more as funk godfather Clinton and his latest collection of funkologists stormed the stage on Sunday night (July 15) and delivered a dozen jams – many of them classic Parliament and Funkadelic hits – to an especially enthusiastic crowd on this muggy Chicago summer evening.
And if the night was already considered “Chicago hot” under a slowly setting sun that for a long while seemed like it might never meet the horizon, Clinton and Co. made it even hotter with each jam they played.
The proceedings begin as all events should – with our national anthem.
No, not that one… Francis Scott Key’s anthem is too controversial these days.
No, I mean our national funk anthem – Funkadelic’s 1978 classic “One Nation Under A Groove.” It’s the one we can all rally around in these divided times and one Clinton and his stage-full of futuristic space cadets delivered in full unifying effect
From start to finish, all butts were elevated from their seats and wiggling as if lives depended on it. As we shout-sang the song’s famous bridge chant, “dohhh dohh de-oh dohhh dohh de-oh dohhh dohh de-oh dohhhh,” it was like a rallying cry for anyone who had not yet been convinced that they, too, needed to take part to be spared the wrath of “Sir Nose” – or, in this case, the abnormally tall, lean dude who suddenly appeared onstage on walking stilts and a black-and-white fur coat (yes it was still Chicago-hot!) before revealing his very chiseled body as he performed all kinds of acrobatics and gyrations while the band continued playing around him.
He was but one part of an entourage of about 20 people who appeared onstage with Clinton, who notoriously tours in community fashion.
The next tune was another 1978 million-seller, Parliament’s “Flash Light” (both Parliament and Funkadelic – largely the same band under different names – were on a roll that year). The crowd danced and sang along to the song’s distinctive descending bass line and many famous chants, all the way to the a cappella finish, “everybody’s got a little light under the sun, under the sun, under the sun, under the sun…” (reverb included).
When they got to the third jam, Funkadelic’s 1979 No. 1 soul chart hit, “(not just) Knee Deep,” it suddenly dawned on this writer that Clinton had performed three of his biggest hits right out of the gate… three No. 1 soul chart tunes that sounded as good today as they ever did.
In the case of “Knee Deep,” Clinton & Co. weren’t content with just giving us the 4:25 single edit. No, they parlayed their stage time into the full 15-min-plus version, with a very impressive dead-on performance of the song’s famous Philippé Wynne ad-lib by one of Clinton’s current band members.
That scat-infused solo should have been met with its own round of applause, I might add. But this crowd wasn’t sweating that kind of detail, at least not visibly. People were there for the bigger picture – to get their party on and to marvel at the funk god who’s been doing it for six decades and counting.
As a kid listening to Parliament and Funkadelic records in the 1970s and early ‘80s, it always seemed that George Clinton – as cool and funky as he was then – was the elder statesman of R&B and funk, the oldest kid on the block, so to speak.
After all the man was in his mid-to-late 30s – considered old by 1970s rock-and-roll standards – during P-Funk’s peak when both Parliament and Funkadelic were riding high on the charts (they had five No. 1 R&B singles between 1976 and ‘79). He was competing for chart space (and often winning) against musicians several years younger, even if they weren’t as afro-futuristic or as visionary as Clinton was.
Fast forward to now, and I had to be reminded that the high priest of funk was exactly a week shy of his 77th birthday as he jumped, danced and even – at one point – ran across the stage during this spirited performance.
Not only that, but the man is still making albums in 2018.
Clinton’s latest effort, released under the Parliament moniker this past May entitled Medicaid Fraud Dogg, was on display on this night. He and his band mates played three of its songs, including the lead single “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’me,” on which Clinton notably did most of the lead vocals (he had smartly delegated that task to his younger singers for the earlier tunes given the aging of his voice).
After “Sick O’me” and two other Medicaid tracks (with vocals by other band members) that served as more of a Clinton break than anything else, the familiar funk returned.
First was “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk),” Parliament’s first No. 1 and Clinton’s first of three million-selling singles.
Then came what was the highlight for the many Ques in the room, myself included. As Clinton & Co. slyly segued into his last No. 1 smash, “Atomic Dog,” brothers of the international black fraternity Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. lined the isles and began hopping to our own anthem of 35-plus years!
But the biggest surprise was when Clinton, himself sliding back and forth and dubiously throwing up the “hooks” as we Brothers call it, invited the Ques to join him onstage where several proceeded to set out a hop and shower Clinton with gratitude for making the song that is second only to “Omega Dear” in the annals of our fraternity’s history.
It was a fitting end to the first part of the set, one that I would have been content had the whole thing ended right there!
But alas, Clinton and band returned to the stage for an encore performance of Parliament’s “Up For The Downstroke,” Funkadelic’s “Cosmic Slop,” and Parliament’s “Mothership Connection (Star Child),” the latter with its two famous refrains, first in the chorus: “If you hear any noise, it’s just me and the boys, hit me! You gotta hit the band” – and then in the bridge: “Swing Down sweet chariot, stop, and let me ride.”
They even cleverly threw in a “Tom’s Diner” scat finish – “do do do do, do do do do” – to cap off the “Mothership” proceedings.
All in all, there was plenty of bass, brass and straight-up funk provided by the genre’s most legendary pioneer Clinton, who has taken on more of a facilitator role than stage musician these days. His voice isn’t as young as it once was and Clinton was more than happy (and not too proud) to turn the singing duties – particularly for his classic hits – over to the more capable singers in his entourage.
Instead, Clinton directed the others, often leading them with hand gestures or singing the opening word of a particular song’s line, and imploring the crowd to sing and dance along with his band. Occasionally, he would take a seat while the music continued – perhaps saving his energy for the more spirited finish he delivered on “Atomic Dog” and the three encore tracks.
Quite frankly, it’s a right he’s earned as the bandleader of two of the most important funk imprints in music history – name brands with which Clinton has had shaky legal relationships over the years, but ones he founded and from which he deserves to reap most of the benefits.
Sadly, those names – Parliament and Funkadelic – weren’t on full display as the large banner bearing their logos (under Clinton’s own) was illegibly lowered behind the band almost as if their legendary founder hadn’t received clearance to fully display them.
Or maybe it was Clinton’s way of letting everyone in attendance know who was the real mastermind behind funk’s greatest consortium of musicians, including those younger ones who were lucky enough to grace the stage with the living legend on Sunday – many of whom weren’t even born when his first big hit, “(I Wanna) Testify” charted in 1967.
Whatever the situation with the P-Funk monikers, Sunday’s show was George Clinton at his current best, smiling endlessly as he doted over the throngs of appreciative fans who came to pay homage to their funk god.
And if this is indeed Clinton’s last tour – as he has announced – consider those in attendance on Sunday to be all the funkier for having witnessed it.
It was an experience this Funkateer will certainly never forget!
George Clinton’s Set List at Grant Park on Sunday, July 15, 2018:
- “One Nation Under A Groove” (Funkadelic, 1978)
- “Flashlight” (Parliament, 1978)
- “(not just) Knee Deep” (Funkadelic, 1979)
- “P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)” (Parliament, 1976)
- “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’me” (Parliament, 2018)
- “Psychotropic” (Parliament, 2018)
- “Backwoods” (Parliament, 2018)
- “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk)/Wind Me Up” (Parliament, 1976)
- “Atomic Dog” (Clinton solo, 1983)
- (Encore) “Up For The Downstroke” (Parliament, 1974)
- “Cosmic Slop” (Funkadelic, 1973)
- “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” (Parliament, 1976)