If funk has ever had three pillars it's James Brown, Sly Stone, and Parliament-Funkadelic. With Sly gone and James having checked out a little over a decade ago I guess that leaves P-Funk last band standing. Tonight Geroge Clinton and his collective are at Bluesfest and from when their drummer begins hammering into his kit, P-Funk’s is a groove that does not stop. In terms of lyrics and solos, you might be able to partition what’s happening on stage into separate songs but really it's one singular continuous groove, one long hard shot of funk.
The band no longer climb out of life-size UFO at the start of their set. Nor do they arrive cloaked in space alien glitter regalia. Instead, they look more a mishmash of Afro-futurism, psychedelia, streetwear, hip hop, and Blaxploitation get-up. (Outfits change often between songs).
A good part of the music comes from their classic ‘70s run of albums - seminal funk thumpers like Mothership Connection and One Nation Under a Groove. There's also newer material more in line with hip hop and what sounds a little like Miami bass. This is a little surprising for those unfamiliar with anything but the band’s '70s output but Black America’s pop culture never held the same reverence for the past the white baby boomers hold for rock’s heritage acts. This means that while P-Funk’ll throw in past hits they have been just as keen to modernise and keep this party going.
George Clinton is the band’s mastermind. Wearing a Red Hot Chilli Peppers t-shirt he orchestrates this cosmic cartoon. He's more about conducting the energies running between band and crowd than taking up the role of lead vocalist. I’m not sure if you could say anyone here is a lead vocalist per se. Every member - 12 in all - have a different trick, song to sing and solo to pull off before the night’s proceedings draw to a close. Backflips, twerking and all manner of acrobatics punctuate their set.
The first three songs give out and reap in the kind of energy most bands would receive only from an encore. And for the most part, this continues throughout the two hours the band play. They know how to work an audience. Clinton and his original funkateers grin and show their chops while their younger accomplices throw themselves into their performances with everything they’ve got.
The elemental force of funk as a chart-topping phenomena may have been swept aside by disco but P-Funk never lost the rhythm. This combine of veteran players and younger talent feels like it can pull spectacle and excitement from the thin air surrounding them. And they often do. No matter what state one comes to this band it’s difficult not to get the body moving. It just happens. This is, after all, a band that famously suggested that if you freed your ass your mind would follow. Walking away I feel that while my mind might not have been wholly liberated my ass is closer than it's ever been.
Words by Riley Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: Tao Jones Photography