How appropriate that one of the most telling and emotive performance glimpses of George Clinton would also serve as his Lexington parting shot.
During the closing moments of an uproarious two-hour concert Thursday night at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, the only (so far) regional booking on what is being promoted as a farewell tour, the funk patriarch stood beaming amid a stage flooded with members of his vast Parliament-Funkadelic entourage and patrons invited up from the audience. As everyone behind him (roughly 30 or so eager followers) barked out the pop-boppish chorus to “Atomic Dog,” Clinton flashed a smile of childlike glee. Then as the celebration kicked into overdrive, he blew the audience a kiss, faded into the grooving masses and disappeared.
One could dissect this performance, relish over the song selection and even fault it at times on technical precision. But in terms of sheer soul and spirit, it was endless fun and a sublime example of what a potent motivational force Clinton still is in concert.
At age 77, the P-Funk headmaster understandably paced himself onstage. He sat for probably one-third of the show, but even then he was openly involved with the joy and action playing out before him. When you think of it, his prime performance role has long been that of cheerleader. As a vocalist, he shouted a few choruses but left most of the vocal duties to other band members.
Clinton didn’t play an instrument, but with a P-Funk ensemble that averaged about 16 musicians and singers, he didn’t need to. Still, his presence last night was an integral element to the music, much of which he has written, co-written and produced over the past 50 years.Clinton spanned much of that tenure at the show’s onset by inserting the chorus of the 1970 Funkadelic relic “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing” into the opening “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me,” a song from a Parliament album (“Medicaid Fraud Dogg”) released earlier this summer.
The repertoire occasionally dipped far enough into the past to illuminate what used to be a marked difference in stylistic temperament between Parliament and Funkadelic. That was demonstrated most generously on the 1971 Funkadelic instrumental “Maggot Brain,” once a showcase for the late guitarist Eddie Hazel, but now a wondrous vehicle for Blackbyrd McKnight.
With the band whittled down initially to a trio, McKnight stoically stormed through the tune’s psychedelic slow-burn, a blast of raw blues and soul-inspired introspection. Clinton sat behind him, flashing more broad smiles like a justifiably proud father figure.More popular — and, ultimately, more streamlined — funk party pieces like “Flash Light,” “One Nation Under a Groove” and “Cosmic Slop” blurred the boundaries of the two bands into the more familiar P-Funk hybrid.
It wasn’t a polished affair. The performance possessed a coarse immediacy with a spaciousness that allowed one song to unexpectedly crash headfirst into another. Similarly, the onstage traffic was heavy with band members exiting and entering constantly, often during songs.But all that added to the merriment.
Operating as a sort of mash-up of Frank Zappa, James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone, this funk circus proved jovial and infectious to the end, setting the stage for a grand and gracious exit for its rightly honored ringmaster.