Photo credit: Marcy Guiragossian
Photo credit: Marcy Guiragossian
All the Funky President’s Men
14 Sep 2002: BB King's Blues Club New York
On The One all things are possible. That was the Daily Word spread once again by the P-Funk Mob at Times Square’s hottest spot on Saturday, 14 September. Parliament-Funkadelic’s return to Gotham is far more than pure cause for celebration; it’s the holiest communion possible considering that they’re America’s greatest band (yes, even above the ABB) and probably the planet’s most important and enduring musical institution in the postwar era (take note Glimmer Twins). The nucleus of veteran players that make the All-Stars run, featuring Lige Curry on bass in his purple and gold kufi and the dreadlocked and shade-hidden Dewayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight on guitar—joined in waves by the Lollipop Man, Cordell “Boogie” Mosson and Billy “Bass” Nelson et al, appeared to skronk and scratch their way into an amorphous instrumental. Then the blue lights rose and “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” proceeded to dominate the first third of the show.
Soon Garry “Doo Wop” Shider landed in his diaper, guitar and cigarette in hand, to reassure the Ole Skool funkateers (read black, for the most part) in the “hizzouse” that all would not be lost in the sea of frat boys and underage white jamband fans overcrowding the dance floor. Shortly followed by the Queen of The Mob, Belita Woods in a tinsel-brimmed hat worthy of (the real) Voodoo King Doctor John, Shider skillfully and subtly piloted the band to various shoals of everything from speeded-up r&b to heavy metal to rockabilly and the verge of bluegrass (newer member Eric McFadden, a dreadlock brotha with a soul patch, supplied mandolin). The nod to current street sounds came via Dirty South “bounce” & Clinton’s later recitation of likeminded heir Mystikal’s hit “Bouncin’ Back”. Uncle Jam’s Army traded off guitars of turquoise, purple and quicksilver, while the rhythm section remained in lockstep, patented/immortalized synth squiggles and farts came from the left and the much beloved horn section raised the whole wild scene beyond the Cosmos.
“Funkentelechy” holds the groove, droning simultaneously with “Undisco Kidd”:
Lady Belita scats and sings in the gap between Tina Turner and Rose Stone: She’s bad, the girl is bad . . .
Let the Amen Corner sang: Move, your sexy body
Baby, let me see you move it all across the floor
Move, your sexy body
Every time you wiggle you hear the men holler for more
The girl is bad!
A few steps back in the lineage that has more recently produced Flavor Flav and Andre 3000, Shider, rotund belly protruding, served as the flesh and sonic embodiment of Eshú, heralding the Coming of the Master of Ceremonies George Clinton aka Dr. Funkenstein, the Funky President etc etc.
In time everybody’s favorite psychedelic Pied Piper Clinton did arrive to cheers, devil horns and worshipful bowing from the sector (including this critic) that treat The Funk as faith. “Funkentelechy” holds the groove. Thus far, those who knew the Script and had been baptized in the P-Funk’s sacred profane for 15 years or more, ceaselessly came with the chants and exhortations coined or co-opted by Clinton in the 1970s when the descent of the Mothership was High Mass: “Ain’t no party like a P-Funk party cause a P-Funk party don’t stop!”, “Swing down, sweet chariot stop and let me ride”, “Shit, goddam, get off your ass and jam!”, and of course, simply, “We want the Funk, Give up the Funk!”
Ole George didn’t even have to call ‘em out and Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk was kept at bay until his customary release for “Atomic Dog” towards show’s end. Meanwhile, the bulk of the evening was taken up with a focus on Parliament hits—á la “Bop Gun (Endangered Species)”—familiar to the Youth through the relentless sampling by former N.W.A. members Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, as well as Dre’s one-time protégé Snoop Dogg aka Snoop Scorsese (?!), although such staples as “Flashlight” were mysteriously shelved. Sadly, for these ears, no “Night Of The Thumpasorus Peoples”, a song I heard very well done at my first P-Funk concert, back in 1990 (perhaps my first in the City). On the Funkadelic end of the spectrum, no “Knee Deep” and, criminally, no “Cosmic Slop” but “One Nation Under A Groove” resounded particularly vitally and emotionally those few days after the 9/11 memorials (the Funky Prez’ red, white and blue-starred Fubu jersey seemed to reflect those undercurrents). Clinton’s granddaughter popped up to rap about the myriad pleasures of marijuana—“Somethin’ Stank And I Want Some”—which got a horde of support from the dance floor crowd especially; has this rap won a Doobie or a Jammy yet?
The most (unintentionally) hilarious and puzzling sequence of the show came from the All-Stars lone white member, a svelte and comely Kim Manning who was tricked-up in a combination of Stevie Nicks meets Whisky a go-go Strip bitch (kinda like a more sultry Amanda Latona) but whose singing style and delivery was pure musical theater. Seems to have been pretty obvious to most everyone present that she was fucking somebody to be so prominently spotlighted. And here I thought Nikka Costa was a bad disciple of Teena Marie (here’s hoping this Manning gal don’t end up in the hands of Rick James). Manning’s face was so ludicrously contorted and her phrasing earnest; it was evident she’d been taught to kill a song in some pop factory in the Flyover or Orlando Teendom. Yet then came the vaguely Mayte-type interpretive dance in time with Blackbyrd’s middle eastern-Quiet Storm arpeggios. With facetious and side-splittingly funny hand-written inter-titles as from the silent film and vaudeville era commenting on the entire proceedings like a Chorus, MC Overton Lloyd kept up a constant stream of observations such as “Unbelievable isn’t it?” and “It’s worth it just to see your faces” (and similar) . . . ending with “And that’s gloryhallastoopid.” Needless to say, these became the hottest properties of the night, grabbed for and caught like picks at a Who concert.
Having attended many a P-Funk party since that Ritz bill in 1990, it can easily be said that the Mob have played far better shows in the Apple, although perhaps not since the late career apogee of the “Return of the Mothership” at Central Park a few summers ago. Without Bootsy or Bernie Worrell, there’s always a question mark—the Allstars’ B.B. King’s appearance last fall with Bernie and Starr Cullars sitting in, among others, was a lot hotter. And of course, Eddie Hazel will never come again. Could be it’s just the difference between seeing them with closer to fifty people onstage rather than roughly fifteen. Of course, the entire club was delighted with the circus of closing number “Atomic Dog” and threw down in kind as much as the cramped, sweaty quarters permitted. However, for a diehard Funkadelic fanatic of such early masterworks as “Superstupid”, “Alice In My Fantasies”, “Philmore”, “Biological Speculation”, “The Song Is Familiar”, “No Compute”, and the immortal “Balance” there was lean pickings beyond the beautiful brief rendering of “Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow”‘s coda, which typically shuts down the concert, and Michael Hampton aka Kidd Funkadelic’s stunning solo turn on “Maggot Brain” which befuddled, nearly silenced and seemed to frankly frighten all the drunk bandwagoneers in from the Square as well as the teeny Touchheads. Hampton only arrived to play his signature and then vanished like a ghost never to be seen again that night, taking with him the souls of the funkateer Faithful.
Sure, the crazy, loopy, fast and loose encore of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” with George screeching lyrics willy-nilly and his son Tray Lewd shakin’ that ass was marvelous fun. Still the real, deep, bleeding heart center was Hampton’s ascending solos from “Maggot Brain”, his devastating and sobering artistry a reminder of why we all want and gotta have that Funk. And why now, more than ever, it’s our dharma to keep on rockin’ in the free world.