It was a raucous and fittingly triumphant farewell to the Prime Minister of funk, when the galactic mothership that is George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic touched down in Florida.
The famous funkateer is winding down his six-decade touring career to take well-earned retirement at the grand old age of 78, with a lengthy final “One Nation Under A Groove” tour.
Celebrating the remarkable career of a true funk pioneer who influenced many, many other artists and whose music is still widely sampled in the hip-hop genre.
His recorded legacy includes 20 albums between 1974 to 2012 under his own name, 16 Funkadelic albums between 1970 to 2015, a dozen Parliament albums between 1970 and 2018, one album as The Parliaments and one album as George Clinton and his Gangsters of Love.
He also made six albums as the P-Funk All Stars. A staggering 56 albums, plus guest spots on other artists’ projects and of course, a bunch of “Greatest Hits” and compilations.
The One Nation Under a Groove tour dropped into the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida, with a bunch of hot opening acts before GC and his funky gang of 16, yes; 16 + George, hit the stage……………
First up was Main Squeeze, a funk quintet out of Bloomington, Indiana who did a neat job. Followed by Miss Velvet and The Blue Wolf, a seven-piece funk group that received international recognition with their debut album “Bad Get Some” in 2017.
Their hard-hitting funk style is marinated with George Clinton’s influence, and the man himself pops up on four tracks on their new album “Feed The Wolf” which was released a few days before this gig.
One of the high points of their set tonight was their latest single, “Phat Blunt”, which features Clinton on the record. They seamlessly mix rock and funk, with electric jams, and Miss Velvet’s powerful, soaring vocals are the icing on the cake. Ones to watch, for sure. George loves ’em.
Fishbone, an L.A.-based funk-fusion band which has been touring since 1979, closed the opening acts slots, and George could not have asked for a better warm-up, with this band getting every single person up out of their seats.
Clinton and Parliament took to the stage as the headliners around half past ten, after what can only be described as a mini funk festival of supporting acts. All of them turned in sets strong enough to claim headline spot on a normal night. But this was no normal night…
We were all here for the main course of this funky meal. Mr Clinton (No, not that one!), and his crew, with the lineup including veterans Greg Thomas (saxophone), Bennie Cowan (trumpet), Blackbird McKnight (guitar) and Lige Curry on bass).
The rest of the band included a bunch of Clinton’s own family members, all of whom plan to continue touring and preaching his funky gospel, after his retirement.
Clad in a blue and gold robe and donning a fedora, Clinton strolled onto the stage surrounded by a crowd of band mates and friends.
Clinton and company belted out the beginning of “Get Off Your Ass and Jam”, turning in a version far longer than the studio recording. This seemed to be the norm’, as each new song blended into one another.
There were moments where the multi-generational crowd – from 30 to “very mature” – would anticipate the song choices, singing verses before the band had even got to them. The set list was long, funky, and full of the hits and deep cuts.
About 20 minutes into the performance, they began to play the iconic “Flashlight”, bringing the crowd of around 1700 people (capacity circa 2,000) to their feet – and the volume to # 11.
This segued into “Not Just Knee Deep,” with the band feeding off the energy of the audience and vice versa.
A lot of love in the room! Lots of sing-alongs. Lots of hoots and hollering. This was a noisy party, and on a “school night”.
Clinton would alternate between standing up singing and sitting down on one of the amps on the stage every 10 minutes or so, and at close to 80 years old, who could blame him needing a rest.
But, for his age he had remarkable energy; dancing and moving across the stage from end to end throughout the 90 minute set. Interacting with the crowd, visibly enjoying every second. His voice is still strong…
With the power to shift to fifth gear and belt it out. There is that road-worn, weathered, gruffer tone to it, but that’s to be expected after many thousands of concerts and the wear and tear of his vocal instrument.
The acoustics at this venue are superb, and with skilled sound engineers working the desk, the sound quality was spot on. Cool and subtle lighting too – no Mothership spectacle on this tour though!
It was during one of the moments when George was perched on his amplifier “throne”, where the original members of the group performed the 10-minute ballad, “Maggot Brain,” prompting a call and response from the crowd.
“I knew I had to rise above it all,” sings Clinton. The audience shout back, “Or I would drown in my own shit.” Clinton is a master of live performance, in complete control of the band and audience. He doesn’t need to stand or dash about, to command respect and authority. He has more than earned it.
As Parliament Funkadelic reached the end of their performance close to midnight, the crowd were still very much in party mood and well-hyper. On their feet and dancing to this relentless and faultless funk, even in the aisles, for the whole gig.
If GC and his collective had stayed put and played all night, my bet is, there would have been circa 1700 people calling in sick to work next morning! Make that 1701!!!
When they played “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow,” George and the band repeated the mantra over and over, similar to the 1970 studio recording.
The biggie was of course, his biggest hit from 1978 and the song they named this tour after, “One Nation Under A Groove”. That got the biggest cheers and reaction tonight, and most certainly didn’t disappoint.
As he finishes up his extended final tour, with a last live performance this weekend (September 1st )in New Orleans, you cannot help but think that George Clinton freed his mind a long, long time ago – his ass now finally following!
Words & Photos: Thomas Iacobucci