Shorn of his multi-colored dreadlocks and bushy, white beard, (mostly) devoid of his flamboyant clothes and clear-headed and free of cocaine, George Clinton is barely recognizable when he takes the stage with Parliament Funkadelic these days.
Only his omnipresent – and infectious – Cheshire grin gave him away.
Clinton appeared onstage in a full-length, silver-sequined jacket that he soon shed, leaving him looking like a low-key preacher in subdued colors with a fedora and sporting a close-cropped goatee. And in a way he was a preacher (of the gospel of funk), as he led the 20 or so musicians, singers and dancers – and a person in far-out attire whose only role was to snap cell-phone photos – who comprise the contemporary version of Parliament Funkadelic through a bawdy, body-shaking, chest-rattling, two-hour, 25-minute performance in a fairly packed Express Live! in Columbus.
The show was billed as Mardi Gras Madness and the band and the audience were dressed for the part, the former resplendent in their always over-to-top refinery and tossing beads into the audience, many of whom donned masks, glasses and other party regalia.
They wanted the funk. Clinton and crew brought the funk. And the fantastical.
Part music concert, part performance art, part house party, the set was an assault on the senses and nearly impossible to take in entirely.
Scantily clad, costumed singers and dancers – female and male – paraded around the stage, brought audience members up to dance with the band and did handstands on side-stage stacks.
There were suits and ties. Jeans and Ts. Bras, panties and fishnets. Corsets. Oversized, multi-colored bow ties. Goofy glasses.
Singers went into the audience and turned their mics over to concertgoers. Guitars were played with teeth; prop guitars weren’t played at all. Rappers rapped. Singers sang. The drummer simply beat the funk out of his drums while the bassist tested the limits of sound system, which sent a muddy, low-end wash over the audience during the first hour or so.
All smiles and with a ton of drug-free energy at 75, Clinton was the happy ring leader, content to hold a mic toward his horn players; shout a few lines here and there; gesture to the raucous crowd in the pit to wave their hands, jump in place and yell their lungs out; and engage with the band, which was so large as to make a Rock Hall induction jam look tiny in comparison.
Surrounded by supporting performers half – and some probably one-third – his age, Clinton was often content to take a seat in front of the drum riser, looking on in bemused satisfaction and/or fanning musicians as they peeled off particularly hot solos. Throughout the generous set, various groupings of this humongous band did the heavy lifting.
And it was heavy on Parliament Funkadelic’s biggest, best-loved numbers.
“Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow” proved to be a truism. “Maggot Brain” was several minutes of guitar histrionics performed by a quintet under Clinton’s watchful eye. “Atomic Dog” was a full-band, on-stage near riot as audience members and performers got down, got up and nearly went nuclear out of sheer exuberance. “Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” nearly did as young and old, black and white, funky and not-so-funky, three-sheets schnockered and stone-cold sober were truly “One Nation Under a Groove” (also performed), all of whom were “Up for the Down Stroke” (ditto) and hoping security’s “Flash Light” (too) never shone on them.
There was no encore, although the final 45 minutes served as one as the band ran through a series of numbers (pun intended), led the crowd in audience-participation exercises and ended each performance with lengthy vamps, band introductions and thank-yous, only to slam headlong into another delirious song.
“We be funkin’ in here,” the band and audience exuded together near night’s end.
“Out there ain’t shit!”
When the music ended and the audience filed silently into the unseasonably warm winter’s night, it was obvious the shit was left inside, still lingering in the dank air inside the concert hall.