George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic: Manchester Ritz – live. Review of the return of the genius of funk

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic
Manchester Ritz
April 17th 2014

Last night was the fifth time I’ve seen George Clinton and possibly the first time I’ve witnessed him at full pelt. Of course, there were glimmers in previous gigs of his ability to drill a band within a beat of its life and get a party started in a near empty room, but on the most part he relied on his motley crew of performers to carry the show. Generally, he would just skulk about, a bleary eyed shadow of his former funky self.

It’s no secret that he has indulged in drugs throughout his dogged career but in the past year he has managed to overcome a debilitating crack habit and penchant for every other substance available. The transformation is nothing short of miraculous. The behemoth of p-funk is 72 years old but last night he could have passed for thirty years younger.

Gone are the rainbow dreadlocks and tragic stage persona, replaced instead with a sharp suit and pork pie hat harking back to the doo wop origins of his first incarnation of The Parliaments. He reminded me of Duke Ellington, conducting the band with a glint in the eye that could only belong to an assured musical innovator.

After the sad passing of Gary Shider in 2010, I managed to catch an abysmal performance of a group falling apart at the seams. George didn’t even turn up – which is why last night was such a revelation. What would kill off most bands (and people) has only made the group stronger and tighter in every sense. There are touching moments throughout where George was referred to as a brother by his group and not as one of his cartoon stage inventions – an important distinction considering his recent past.

At 8.00pm on the dot, when the Ritz was barely a third full, half the band strolled on and began playing Mommy, what’s a Funkadelic? and the set didn’t let up from there. There were plenty of staples included from both incarnations as well as George’s solo career; Atomic Dog, (Not just) Knee deep and Flashlight amongst them, but my personal highlight was an unscripted performance of (I wanna) Testify, a hit from when George was on the Motown songwriters payroll, ad-libbed especially for Manchester because of our love of Northern Soul.

 

It was a performance where everything just worked. The improvisations crackled with risks that paid off, the crowd interaction brimmed with mutual love and everyone in the room realised they were witnessing a special night – the band included.

The set flowed perfectly over the two and a half hour set, party stompers ran their natural course whenever the appreciative dancefloor began to flag, only to be rejuvenated through shear awe during the quieter moments. Maggot Brain is always a special moment in the set but Michael Hampton was nearly in tears when he finished playing his last note.

Mr. Nose strolled on like a pantomime villain and was eventually convinced to dance, performing acrobatics on top of a speaker fifteen feet in the air before inviting a harem of women from the audience to dance on stage. The band included a rotation of drummers, three guitarists, bassist, two keys players, horn section and four backing vocalists – which is actually quite a scaled down number compared to previous line ups.

George’s granddaughter made an appearance too, rapping about her love of weed and young studs imploring the audience to donate their ready rolled liberally. Maybe it’s because the audience was showing solidarity with Mr. Clinton but I only counted one spliff making its way on stage. One previous Manchester gig looked like an evidence room by the end of the show.

It’s amazing how many tracks have been sampled by Hip Hop artists and George is currently in a bitter legal battle with a previous label who have been collecting his royalties for themselves whilst he’s been in a drug induced waking coma. Now he is getting his house in order. An autobiography is due as well as a reality TV show (The Clintons), and he’s offered to be a witness for any artist who have sampled his work as a big fuck you to an industry who shafted him.

For all the drama that music has brought him any signs of bitterness don’t show. It’s in his natural environment, on nights like this when any drama slips into the background and the catharsis travels round the room touching everyone in attendance.

The audience themselves are as diverse as the musical styles. There are freaks, geeks and curious first timers converted in no time. The bulk of the crowd aren’t old enough to remember the Hip Hop homage’s never mind the original releases but there are plenty of older heads in attendance dancing side by side with boundless energy. Not many gigs have such a cross section of people and it is testament to his musical legacy that new fans are constantly flocking to the Church of George Clinton.

I was in two minds whether or not to give them another try last night but I’m relieved I did. They got Manchester raving at 8.01pm on a Thursday night. I dread to think what Glasgow will be like on Good Friday.
If you get a chance to go and see them, do yourself a favour – free your mind and your ass will follow.

Setlist:

  • Mommy, what’s a funkadelic?
  • One nation under a groove
  • Red hot mamma
  • P funk (Wants to get funked up)
  • Flashlight
  • Electric spanking of war babies
  • Something stank
  • Hard as steel
  • (Not just) Knee deep
  • Mr. Wiggles
  • I’ll bet you
  • I wanna testify
  • Up for the downstroke
  • Give up the funk (Tear the roof off the sucker)
  • Maggot brain
  • Atomic dog
  • Alice in my fantasies

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