Not Just Knee Deep: George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at First Avenue, by Nate Patrin
George Clinton & P-Funk
First Avenue, May 27
Review by Nate Patrin
Photos by Daniel Corrigan
The version of P-Funk that showed up at First Avenue on Tuesday wasn’t the most recognized and beloved incarnation. Bootsy Collins, who plays a James Brown tribute at the Minnesota Zoo in July, was absent. So was Bernie Worrell, who almost singlehandedly defined how synthesizers would sound in funk – and hip-hop – from the mid ‘70s onward. Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker – two reasons Prince’s 2004 Xcel Energy Center homestand was so spectacular – were also MIA, leaving out the backbone of maybe the finest horn section in funk history. Any chance of getting something as mindblowing as the kind of stuff they were doing in arenas circa 1976 was, at least from the outset, kinda slim.
George Clinton gives up the funk. More photos by Daniel Corrigan.
But expecting the exact same personnel that made Mothership Connection and One Nation Under a Groove two of the best records of the ‘70s is kind of naïve, and it’d be unfair to complain too much about who we did get: the perennially bediapered lead singer Garry Shider belting and wailing, Mike “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton shredding his ass off and laying claim to being the second-greatest living guitarist out there (and anyone who’s heard “Cosmic Slop” live has gotta figure that Jimmy Page ain’t too far ahead), Cordell “Boogie” Mosson reminding us that the group had more than one great bassist, and a whole host of other singers and instrumentalists who, if not as instantly recognizable and iconic as Bootsy or Bernie or the Horny Horns, were still there on wax back in the late ‘70s and maintained that classic link in one sense or another. More than half of the dozen-plus people on stage were on the Mothership at least long enough to play on Uncle Jam Wants You – hence the fittingness of the Prince-nod exhortation that everyone was “gonna party like it’s 1979” – and if your name is on the credits of an album with “(Not Just) Knee Deep” on it, dammit, you should be P-Funk enough for anyone.
Don't act rash: it's just the Mothership Connection. More photos by Daniel Corrigan.
And then, after 45 minutes or so of vamping (including an increasingly amorphous “Funkentelechy”), we got the master of ceremonies himself, decked out in a skeletally-themed hoodie-and-jeans combo and with Technicolor uber-weave resplendent. George didn’t do that much – pointing the mic at the crowd to sing the hook of “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker),” flashing the devil horns after some particularly gnarly moments during “Red Hot Mama” and “Cosmic Slop,” and splitting a little time between singing and pumping up the crowd – but just having him there tying everything together made it that much more special. Despite the presence of Clinton, ur-player-hater Sir Nose d’Voidoffunk (rocking a D’Angelo sixpack and a “FUCK GEORGE” sign) and Shider’s makeshift hotel towel Pampers, there wasn’t a surplus of the crazed, astro-mythological, spaced-out and wildly-attired outrageousness the group is famous for, and First Ave’s sound mix made some of the night’s looser-limbed moments sound muddled.
But a solid mixture of slick Parliament classics (“Bop Gun (Endangered Species)”; “Rumpofsteelskin”) and heavy, early Funkadelic cuts (“I Bet You”; “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing”) made up for it – and at least now I can tell my friends that, at some point in my life, I got the chance to see George Clinton quote the “skeet skeet skeet” hook to Lil’ Jon’s “Get Low” during “Get Off Your Ass and Jam”.