Ain't nothin' but a jam, y'all. Indeed. It's George Clinton's raison d'etre, the universal mission of the P-Funk. No need to ask where the party's at when the mothership touches down close to home. It's on the stage; it's on the dance floor; it's in the dressing rooms; and it's in your pants -- check your booty.
It takes a special kind of man to lead a band with a seemingly insignificant flick of the wrist or an ambiguous body jerk, particularly for a group that treats pre-show like it's an after-party. In traditional funk fashion, like James Brown, there's only one boss on that stage. Unlike Brown, however, whose stage direction is crisp and obvious, Clinton's sometimes seems like nothing more than silly antics, tapping intricate drum beats (which may or may not be replicated exactly) into the microphone with the palm of his hand and jumping the decibel levels between booms and whispers by crouching and standing, all eyes on him for the cue. And that's what makes it genius. For the first hour of a short two-hour set at Florida's Lake Buena Vista House of Blues (blame the venue-imposed curfew: the show lasted four hours only two nights earlier in Gainesville) George Clinton, to the untrained eye, may have appeared to be doing a whole lotta nothing on stage. In fact, he didn't even hit the stage until almost a half-hour into the set. They don't call themselves All-Stars for nothing.
So before that grand appearance, the band kicked in slowly, warming themselves up and giving the audience a chance to ease into what was to become an uncontrollable frenzy of funk. Then, the unmistakable voice of Lollipop Man ("alias the Long-Haired Sucka"), whose motto is "Make My Funk the P-Funk" hit, and the funk was afoot. Metal guitars squealed, booming bass lowered the bottom down deep and the brass ruled with searing horn solos by Greg Thomas on sax, then some wicked trumpet from Bennie Cowan and more sweet sax from Scott Taylor.
The power of the P-Funk party is that at any given time the stage can hold anywhere from three to twenty musicians, with individual players walking on and off intermittently throughout the show. Vocalist Robert "P-Nut" Johnson, who had been spotted by the bar flirting with the ladies as the curtain came up, eventually meandered out to sing. One by one, the players made their way into the jam, and it was a solid, fat groove when Clinton took the crew over the hump, shooting his invisible "Bop Gun" into the rafters and inciting general mayhem in the crowd. Donning an oversized smock, Clinton was like a religious figure to zealous fans, who rushed the stage to try to touch his hand, or to tug his clothes, or, in one particularly annoying instance, to show off an FSU hat.
"Can you feel that?" Clinton asked. They could feel it; too bad they wouldn't hear it, though. Clinton can conduct the band practically telepathically, but to control a (mostly) drunken crowd is another task altogether. Nevertheless, Dr. Funkenstein pressed on, calling for numerous classics: "Cosmic Slop," "Flashlight," "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)." But some of the finest moments were to come from singer Belita Wood's powerful ballads, and the ultimate end-of-show/end-of-tour dance party blowout "Atomic Dog."
Without even bothering to exit the stage, the band jammed directly into the encore, a strangely funkified take on Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" and a vague cover of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On." Stretching the "Let's Take It to the Stage" jam until the audience's mind turned to goo, Clinton had truly hit his stride, owning the microphone 'til the 10:30 curfew.
Though there ain't no party like a P-Funk party, contrary to popular lyrics, alas the P-Funk party does stop. On a dime, that is. But the Godfather of Funk, so deemed for decades now, proved once again that he'll never be too old for the title.
Written by ROBIN ROTHMAN for RollingStone.com News