When people talk about progressive music many will think of it as applying only to rock bands, to the heritage bands such as Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant and so on (and people will be evenly split – loathing or loving those bands depending on the cut of their jeans and the length of their hair); others may well think of the more modern bands lumped into that category, so all Steven Wilson’s work, Opeth, Anathema, Pineapple Thief and more; some people may even laud the more modern exponents and claim that Radiohead rehabilitated prog (no, me neither) but it’s pretty certain no one will include George Clinton in their debates. And yet…a quick dictionary definition from the interwebs says progressive is “favouring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are” and that’s something Clinton has been doing with his music for the past four decades and something he continues to do to this day. The packed out crowd at the Academy witnessed exactly how progressive his music is over a colossal two and three-quarter hour set that manged to jam seventeen (estimate) genres in to one funkalicious cosmic slop.
Much like his last appearance at this venue, GC brought a massive Parliament / Funkadelic band to the stage, over the course of the show there were consistently at least fourteen people on stage (oh with the exception of an almighty rendition of Maggot Brain, that “just” featured just three guitars, bass, drums & keys and of course GC). It would be impossible to relate exactly who did what with any accuracy as there was so much going on during each lengthy number, and taking comprehensive notes was not gonna happen once the band hit their totally persuasive and utterly compelling groove. The whole room was locked in to the beat, word perfect and frankly losing their shit as each cut hit that groove. But to give some kind of feel to how it went down: four or five lady singers….four or five (or six?) fellas singing, rapping and cheer leading…three guitars…two saxophones… Whilst we had just one trumpet, one (exceptionally forceful and funky) bass player and one keys man we did have two drummers who swapped about from song to song. And one of whom inexplicably chose to wear a heavy duty high-viz hoodie throughout the show.
Throughout the night GC acted as funkmaster general, corralling his band, leading the singalongs, cajoling audience participation and takimg plenty of vocals, albeit leaving the funk choir to carry the songs, which they did individually and in duos and trios; spitting raps across soul harmonies and generally giving a master class in the history of soul / funk / urban vocals from the past forty years. Often in the same song and often mixing them simultaneously to delightful effect. But therein is the secret of GC’s music, he takes disparate musical forms and tropes and jams them together for unexpected pleasures. Drum n beat interludes in the middle of a funk number with doo-wop quality harmonies? Why not… Honking primal rock n roll saxophone alternating with lascivious funk horns? Let’s see what happens… And oh the guitars…the guitars! Choppy funky chicken scratch guitars, clean leads & solos and some epic riffs, riffs that wouldn’t be out of place at Bloodstock to be frank (and delivered over the funk in a crazy ass way that shouldn’t have worked but did).
The set opener Super Stupid was a case in point, a riff heavy funk number that scorched it’s way off the stage, but the guitar masterclass came during Maggot Brain, a ten minute plus guitarmageddon during which DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight staked a case as the most ridiculously ignored player in popular music. Seriously, when was the last time you saw him in one of those interminable lists of great guitar players the media so love? A clever and inventive player, content to sit behind the less heavy tunes and deliver understated rhythm but then equally happy to unleash devastating solos like a mercury enema laced with shattered glass.
GC has a massive catalogue to draw from and every tune was received with rapture by the ecstatic crowd, a joyous throng lost in the groove and, by the end of the mammoth set, left hoarse from singing, sweaty from the dancing and totally sated. One Nation Under a Groove was seamlessly blended with Flashlight, Cholly (Funk Getting Ready To Roll!) was stupendous but P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up) was possibly the stand-out but then the whole set was a riot of danceable progressive funk with a massive amount of humour (Pink Panther theme dropped into a sax solo) and despite the seeming chaos as tight as a Tory Health Minister. If you haven’t experienced the full power of the Mothership then you need to put that right on GC’s return cos there ain’t no party like a P-Funk party cos a P-Funk party don’t stop.
PS: of course Sir Nose D’voidoffunk made an appearance or two, handstands (on stage and whilst perched precariously on an amp), snake-hipped dancing and yep, he certainly did do that slightly weird thing with his six pack wigging. It wouldn’t be a P-Funk party without him…
George Clinton O2 Academy Bristol, May 15th 2017