With Parliament and Funkadelic
House of Blues, Dallas
Friday, May 29, 2015
We'll always remember the funkier times.
The crowd at House of Blues Friday came to pay respect to a genre's elder statesman and to climb aboard a new spaceship. Most checked just one of those items off the to-do list by the end of the show. While the set was long on fun moments and trippy flashbacks to the late 70's and early 80's, it was noticeably short on technical funkiness. Bracing drums and off-genre guest vocal appearances from members of the current permutation of Parliament-Funkadelic drowned out the muddy synth necessary to complete the funk and gave the show a rock n roll feel at times, a rap show feel at others, with Clinton himself often taking a back seat, pacing the stage, spitting three-word vocal bursts into the mic like a backup singer on his own tracks.
Fans would do well to remember that Clinton is 73 now, and the band definitely has to pick him up in places. Gone are the rainbow dreads and the stoned wizard beard. Gone also are the funk-shaman robes. He came out for the set that lasted just over an hour crushing a plaid khaki pimp suit with a white straw fedora and went right into a little Mothership Connection, a welcome open, though one that just didn't sound like the 1975.
But he had his moments.
Like that awkward moment when the 73-year-old Clinton thrust and waved his mic stand around like he was wagging his legendary manhood in the crowd's collective face. Or the moment the band went into a cut from Clinton's newest Funkadelic album "First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate" simply titled "Fucked Up," during which he meandered on stage repeating the phrase to the subdued and jazzy R&B number, leaving patrons to wonder if his also legendary drug habit was still in tow. Or, that moment when he proved to us all that it was.
During an interlude midway through the set, the Prime Minister of Funk requested airborne delivery of a joint and was subsequently pelted with three or four, some of which fell harmlessly to the ground front stage. He caught one, lit up and sucked down half the thing before he had to chime back in.
Then there were the classic jams. "One Nation Under a Groove" might have been the band's strongest offering just for the funk of it, diverging from its original sound the least of all the old material. "Atomic Dog" and "Flash Light" kept the crowd moving, though with a more manufactured sound than fans know from album versions of the songs. On "Give Up The Funk," Dr. Funkenstein was limited to the "la la la la" portion of the bridge, pointing the mic toward the crowd for the responsive "doo doo doos" while Ron Ford took the reins on the vocals, as he did for the bulk of several other tracks.
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You never want to let one show late in a performer's career shape too much of your opinion on the artist, though. George Clinton will forever be the man who took James Brown's funk genre into outer space. His jams have informed and inspired more than a generation of hiphop artists, most recently Kendrick Lamar, who brought Clinton aboard for a featured appearance on "To Pimp a Butterfly" opener "Wesley's Theory." You can hear a hint of Clinton's vocal decline on that feature, but the live performance, which used to be so much of the funk appeal, is just no longer sustainable for the legend.
His songs will always provide listeners a sonic space in which to get down with their bad self. He'll always be remembered as one of the most important men in the genre. But we'll always remember the funkier times.