I've seen George Clinton and some version of Parliament-Funkadelic numerous times in my life, but this was the first in over a decade. For me, nothing could compare to the 1996 tour that brought them back to the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Bootsy and all, complete with the return of the Mothership descending from above onto the stage. But George was spending Sony's money back then, behind the fantastic "T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M." album, and those major label days are long over.
Still, no matter who is or isn't playing in the band these days, you're guaranteed great musicianship when George Clinton brings Parliament-Funkadelic to the stage. And much to my surprise, the Royal Oak Music Theatre was filled with people waiting to get funked up. I don't know what I was expecting from this show, for some reason I was not expecting the place to be so packed. This was, after all, the Godfather of Funk playing a local show, so it was nice to see the support.
It took about an hour after the doors opened for the band to slowly start to take the stage. And considering how many people pack the stage during a P-Funk show, it was tough to tell when it truly was going to start as more and more folks kept wandering on stage and picking up instruments or grabbing a mic. But the real surprise came when George Clinton sauntered onstage. I had to do a double take to make sure that was indeed the Mad Messiah GC up there as he arrived minus the colorful hair and braids that have long been his trademark. Sporting a hat that he shortly thereafter tossed off to reveal his nearly bald head, it was George Clinton "Unplugged". His beard, long ago gray was also dyed completely black. The not often publicly seen look even led to Clinton being introduced by another band member to the audience, I guess to make sure everyone knew George was in their presence.
Once the show started, it was a non-stop barrage of funk, from classics to obscure album cuts, some played in full, many played in medley style with bits and pieces of songs intertwined. The opening jam contained parts of "Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On", "Pumpin' It Up", "Undisco Kidd" and "Good To Your Earhole" just to name a few. At one point, even Parlet's "Cookie Jar" was the focus of a long jam. To no one's surprise, songs played in full included "Flashlight", "(Not Just) Knee Deep", "Give Up The Funk(Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" and Clinton's solo smash "Atomic Dog". Of course, characters like Sir Nose made their appearances as well.
The energy onstage and in the crowd during these performances was amazing, but one downfall of the show were the frequent forays into "guest" appearances by a seemingly never-ending line of female singers. Belita Woods, who has toured with the P-Funk crew for nearly 20 years, was expected but these performances of a lot more bluesy and slower material really seemed to sap the crowd and show of its energy. Clinton's granddaughter Sativa took to the stage as well to rap as she did on record on "Something Stank" while George and the crew puffed on joints passed up to the stage from the crowd. A rather funny moment considering Michigan's indoor "smoking ban".
The evening's musical highlight, as it so often is at a P-Funk show, was a scintillating performance of the Funkadelic classic "Maggot Brain". Dedicated to those from the band's history who have left us, including guitarist Eddie Hazel who performed the song on record, to recently departed Garry Shider, Michael Hampton brought down the house as always with this all-time great guitar piece.
The night ended with a ton of people from the audience brought onstage to dance during an extended "Atomic Dog". By this time the show had reached over three hours long, and this was without much of a break of any kind. Even though Clinton left the stage for a large portion starting with "Maggot Brain", the band played on and he returned for the home stretch, so it was three plus hours of music.
Even with the drops in intensity during some of the female guest spots, there is no denying the continued excellence on display musically at a P-Funk show. It's almost impossible not to have a good time. George Clinton will turn 70 this year, so it's still an honor to have him performing with his legendary and influential collective, even if George is not too active onstage anymore and didn't appear to have much of a voice left. Maybe he was under the weather but his role on this night was more as a bandleader and conducter, demanding the crowd make noise and showcasing individual band members. And that is what made the night, the incredible songs and musical ability of the P-Funk crew.