The last time we had the pleasure of the company of this multi-instrumental, all-singing all-grooving hydra it was as night fell over Dunlaoire’s Beatyard festival in 2016. George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic’s blend of funk, soul, pop, hip-hop and all-out metal was well-served by the balmy sea air and festival atmosphere on that occasion, but on this Tuesday night in town it might be even more potent – physically condensed into an intimate Vicar Street, but expanded into a two-and-a-half hour set of mesmeric musicianship and catalogue-dipping.
George Clinton’s influence on twentieth century music is rarely understated and the impact of Parliament/Funkadelic profound. Running concurrently yet both uniquely conceived, these groups explored the outer reaches of experimental funk and R&B for decades, with a revolving door of (inter)stellar musicians and collaborators. In 2017, Clinton’s band of brothers and sisters are the flame-keepers of those sounds – theirs is P-Funk with a contemporary slant but no less incendiary in the execution.
A few choppy, distorted chords ring out in the darkness to check levels – a precursor to the splashy hi-hat count-in that suddenly pulls fourteen bodies onto the stage. The sinewy electric guitar of DeWayne ‘Blackbyrd’ McKnight is immediately front and centre, physically and sonically, with the hands of a game-y crowd flying skywards at an MC’s request. Clinton gets the action going with his movements, interjecting with vocals only intermittently in the early numbers to deliver some growling funk/soul incitement. Mainly, he lets the hype men have at it while he joins the dancers’ choreography. During ‘Pole Power’ he hangs back in front of the drummer while one of his female backing vocalists takes lead – now Clinton’s the hype man, giving his colleagues their dues as it all kicks off around him.
As the gig progresses it’s clear that there’s no dead wood here. George Clinton is a practised bandleader. As saxophonist Greg Thomas embarks on a fine, lengthy solo, Clinton just takes a seat right behind him and soaks up the sounds of his players. That is, until the horn blower’s lung capacity-defying final flourish, where even Clinton can’t contain his pleasure at the man’s breathless skill. P-Funk themes are referenced and cross-referenced within tracks throughout the set, knitting the new songs into the patchwork of the traditional material. During a rare lull during one newer, laid-back bass-led track, Thomas engages the crowd in a scatty call-and-response that mainly serves to curb the restlessness of the unfamiliar. It doesn’t last for long – as McKnight breaks into a squealing front-stage solo once more it almost seems that the perceived lull is just a ruse to make what immediately follows seem even more incendiary in its wake. We shouldn’t have doubted Clinton for a second.
“We ain’t playing no football, Dublin, we’re funkin’ tonight” comes the gentle onstage rebuke to the crowd’s mercifully short-lived Olé, Olé chant. To be fair, though, the performance of ‘Maggot Brain’ that sparked it warranted the outburst of appreciation. McKnight winds through the solo and it hasn’t been as loud as this in Vicar Street in recent memory…but then, guitar playing like this deserves volume.
The showboating hits critical mass with the appearance of Sir Nose d’Voidoffunk – the tall mystery man dressed head to toe in white feathery pimp regalia, moving between the players under a wide-brimmed hat. ‘Flash Light’ sees him mount the PA speakers to lock into an impossibly arched handstand before taking his stance at the drum riser to monitor proceedings. This is Clinton’s stage though; his vision that’s being interpreted. There’s little appetite for an end to this set – only a curfew to curtail the funk – and Clinton’s all-inclusive closing mantra takes us finally, unwillingly into ‘Cosmic Slop’. It’s a masterclass in stagecraft from all involved, with the man himself affirming that final missive: “We are one nation…”
George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic photographed for State by Mark Earley