Saturday, March 8, 2008

Concert Review; George Clinton and P-Funk; Monday, February 25/08 Phoenix Theatre, Toronto

On a good night, nobody else playing on any stage can top these guys. Their off nights are usually pretty impressive as well. Unfortunately, George Clinton and P-Funk (also known as Parliament and Funkadelic and both, as a compound word) almost never visit Toronto, the city they once called home. Those who wanted to party Monday night and those who wanted to get knocked down by some deep funk all got together and filled the Phoenix for a long, hot and sweaty night.

Tonight was a special treat for die-hard fans. The band tore into a searing version of “Red Hot Mama” which was followed by an extended oldies jam of “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks”, “I’ll Bet You” and “I Got A Thing”.

The horn section has been reduced to a section of one, but Greg Thomas makes the most of his moments in the spotlight. His playing was devastating through the James Brown tribute led by one of several back up singers, Gene “Poo Poo Man” Anderson. This was worked into “Up For The Down Stroke” which kept the house moving with the music. Kendra, one of the newer singers in the band, led the charge through “Bounce To This” and Belita Woods sang a couple of songs as well. Michael Clip Payne is still the master of ceremonies, introducing members as they came and went from the stage.

Michael Kidd Funkadelic Hampton took charge for a typically intense guitar blow out on “Maggot Brain” which George Clinton dedicated to The Hawk’s Nest, Ronnie Hawkins’ long gone Yonge Street bar where the band used to play when they lived here. Drummer Rico was on duty for “Maggot Brain”, and he stayed with Hampton for the duration. Rico is a great addition to drummer Kash Waddy, no slouch himself. Lige Curry still plays bass and sticks mostly in the background. The man isn’t always easily seen, but he could be heard loud and clear all night long. While many funk bass players get carried away with slapping and plucking like Les Claypool, Lige fills the bottom of the band’s already dense live sound. He doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the band, like a lot of bass players who too often sound like frustrated guitarists playing funk.

The 1978 hit “One Nation Under A Groove” started off as a slow a cappella number before the band kicked in and brought out the usual arrangement. One thing that helps the band’s stage longevity is their willingness to try different styles of playing old songs. They are acutely aware that they are certain to remain a bigger concert draw than a music-retailing powerhouse.

P-Funk stayed on the late seventies tip for the rest of the set with the exception of George’s “Ludicrous” rap. “Knee Deep” featured all hands on deck, as Belita Woods came back out to sing “Sentimental Journey” before the guitars restarted their night-long duel. With Garry Shider taking over some of George Clinton’s stage directions, the band was still as funky as ever. George came and went from the stage while the band ran through “Bop Gun”, “Gamin’ On Ya” and “Undisco Kidd” and “Flashlight”. They wrapped it up with their regular “Atomic Dog” finale. This usually ends with a sizable portion of the crowd dancing on stage. Happily, most of the crowd stayed on the floor instead of crowding the stage. I wish George Clinton had faith in some of the band’s other material to pull out as their closing song blow-out. P-Funk were definitely having a good night, but “Atomic Dog” has become an almost anti-climactic ending for their shows; it’s one of their few songs which you know pretty much what to expect for the remainder of the gig. “Atomic Dog” sounded just fine, but if they segued into another tune, newbies and long time fans alike would certainly embrace the change. As it was, the concert left everyone in an exhausted, sweat-drenched state of funky euphoria. So few acts can still pull off three and a half hours of hard funk on stage, one can forget P-Funk are still such a hot act. Their last local appearances have been either three hours away at the Kee to Bala or the short set they delivered at the CNE a few years ago. Now that the Canadian dollar is hovering around par, one might hope there is now an incentive to bring up bands like P-Funk more often.


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