George Clinton is 72 years old and he rocked a two-hour set at Tempe's Marquee Theatre Wednesday night. You can forgive him for taking a couple of sit-downs throughout the set. (When I'm 72, if I can perform for 15 minutes I'll call it a Roman triumph.) The man is just absolutely impressive as a songwriter and performer, perhaps even more so in his seventh decade of performing.
The evening was opened by local atomic jazz fusion act Captain Squeegee, known throughout the local music scene for its talented horn section. For further proof, see Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special's upcoming album or Mouse Powell's most recent release. Squeegee also is known as one of the Valley's best local ska bands, but that's neither here nor there.
The decade-old seven-piece left its alt-rock songs at the jam pad and hit the Marquee stage with nothing but experimental funk. The band kept the set mostly to songs from its 2013 release, To the Bardos, and the crowd was feeling it, evidenced by the overwhelming number of times frontman Danny Torgersen was asked when the band's next show would be (May 22 at Crescent Ballroom).
Captain Squeegee was a valiant opener, but the crowd of about 1,000 most certainly came for P-Funk. The Parliament-Funkadelic took the stage before their leader and got the groove going. Clinton took much of the crowd by surprise by not wearing his trademark rainbow colored braids or sunglasses. In fact, much of the crowd did not even know it was him until he officially was introduced. But once that name was called, every audience member burst into applause.
Traditional structure was completely irrelevant for Parliament-Funkadelic. Every single song was shifted into a drawn-out jam with each member of the band getting their 15 seconds. The groove-based jams kicked out by the band made it easy to understand why so many hippies attended the show. The new generation of flower children had a strong presence and represented some of the best dancers in the room as well.
It was interesting to see burners interacting with some of the older black folks in the crowd, and beautiful every time a 20-something in a tie-dyed shirt got to dancing with a more conservatively dressed older person. They just represent two sections of humanity that seldom cross for social interaction -- unless George Clinton is in town.
Clinton did not seem a lead singer as much he did a ringleader, giving cues to the members of his Funkadelic circus. It was hard to tell how many musicians were playing with their musical collective, as a few seemed to tag in and out with others. At one point, guitarist Michael Hampton left the stage area altogether and went to the bar for a beer with his Flying V guitar still strapped to him. Adding to the circus feel was the group's lone dancer, who entered the stage about midway through the set in a white fur hat and coat with seven-inch prosthetic over his nose. This was Sir Nose, the nemesis of Clinton's alter-ego, Starchild. Beside just dressing funny, the dancer brought outlandish moves, more than one of which included him kicking himself in the back of the head.
The songs just seemed to bleed together and it was sometimes hard to tell when one ended and another began. But there was no mistaking toward the end when "Tear the roof off this sucker" came on and the whole audience sang "we want the funk, give up the funk" along with Clinton. The band followed up that with "Atomic Dog," during which Clinton invited audience members on stage for the finale.
Last Night: George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic, and Captain Squeegee at the Marquee Theatre
Personal Bias: My first concert was George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic, kind of a big deal to review them for Up on the Sun. Also, these P-Funk fans ought to check out local band Bacchus and the Demon Sluts.
Audience: The crowd was like a mix of McDowell Mountain Music Festival and the Lauryn Hill concert I saw at Celebrity Theater. Which is also what the music was like, come to think of it.
Overheard: "What the funk?" "Where the funk?" "Who the funk?" and every other cancerous pun you can imagine that ended in funk.
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