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Arts and Entertainment

George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic Club Nokia

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Ain't no party like a P-Funk party
Cuz the P-Funk party don't stop!

By the time they had us chanting this last Friday, it was at least forty-five minutes past the 12:30 curfew posted by the doors. The band looked unsurprised as the PA went dead, followed by the monitors, followed by the amps. But the drummer wouldn't stop, and they couldn't turn him off, and George Clinton was still up there, hollering at us and pumping his fists. We were right there with him. So for a couple of minutes, we burned the candle right down to the end, till there was nothing left.

One nation under a groove!
Getting down just for the funk of it!

A nonstop two and a half hour show is generous by most bands'; standards, but P-Funk is a different kind of thing. The first time I saw them, at the Hollywood Palladium around 1993, they took the stage shortly after the posted start time of 9pm, and played until they were similarly rousted at 2am. Five hours bouncing around in a mass of really sweaty, really happy looking people, maybe the liveliest crowd I've ever been part of in LA. Even Bootsy showed up for that one. I had to call in sick the next day, but it was worth it.

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One suspects if they ever played in a pad that was open 24 hours, they would still be going at it when another band showed up for soundcheck the next afternoon. There’s enough people, and enough material, that you could have dudes going off, five at a time, to take naps, get some breakfast, maybe take in a movie and still make it back in time for the big solo break in "Flash Light". They can work in shifts. Their only limitations are artificial. Time doesn’t exist when confronted with The One.

This is a band that’s not big on clean lines and firm plans. It’s symptomatic of the big difference between P-Funk and James Brown funk: James insisted on clean lines, even when improvising. P-Funk was always too high to be that organized. Case in point, the disregard for a set list: minutes before the show, as we were figuring out when we could go in the photo pit, we were advised, “the band will start with a couple of instrumentals, then the third song will be 'Cosmic Slop'. George will come out during that one and then decide what the next two songs will be, based on the vibe and the audience.” OK, pretty loose. As it turned out, the first song was not an instrumental, Clinton came out for the second song, and 'Cosmic Slop' was never played at all. But it didn’t matter. We figured it out, got with it. That’s just how it goes with this crew. At least half the band misses the turnaround in "Red Hot Mama", but it’s no trainwreck, it just gets a little slippery for a second before they all figure it out, and it oozes into shape by the fifth bar.

It’s natural, then, that the pace slackens once in a while, you can see the guys marking time, wondering who’s going to kick off the next one. But give them a minute, and something good will come down the line eventually. It’s a long show, there’s no rush, unless the beat has stopped, in which case you can see them scurrying to get it happening again as quickly as possible.

I’ve seen this band in a lot of different venues, and a big club like the Nokia is really the ideal environment for them. They need a big enough stage, and a big enough floor space, so folks can spread out and dance, without being too cavernous. It was also probably the best they’ve ever sounded, a 20-piece electric band, coming across loud and clear, with no mud.

Old-school funkateers Gary Shider and Mike “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton are on board, along with a lot of people who’ve been around since at least the ‘90s. There’s so many people crowding the mics, it’s hard to tell who’s a special guest and who’s in the cast, although I make out that one of them is Clinton’s granddaughter Sativa, who comes out and does a rap requesting some herb. (Points for consistency of concept!) While the occasional whiff of skunk can be detected on the floor, no one manages to pass anything to her over the front row of bouncers. The rumored Red Hot Chili Peppers appearance, which seemed logical enough from their appearance on Clinton’s new Gangsters Of Love album, never materializes.

One visitor that does not pass unnoticed is Sly Stone. Sly’s been making the occasional public appearance since his vaguely disturbing couple of minutes at the 2005 Grammys, and while many reviews of the recent Family Stone gigs describe him as barely there, others have been promising. It seems to depend on what kind of shape he’s in when he walks through the door. Let’s hope he’s on the mend, because tonight he looks and sounds very good as he leads P-Funk through impromptu versions of "If You Want Me To Stay" and "Thank Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin", only raising eyebrows when he interrupts the flow to read some war-themed poetry as the band looks on waiting for the music to start again. He’s on stage for almost ten minutes, longer than some of his own gigs, and just to see him alive and kicking before our very eyes is an electric shock, a moment not to be forgotten. If he was able to sing this well for a 90 minute set with his own band, and keep the speechifying to a minimum, I’d pay big money to see it.

For such a long show, I only noted a dozen song titles, not counting the little fragments where they’d start chanting the chorus of a different song that happened to work with the groove they were in, sometimes morphing into that tune, sometimes not. But it’s missing the point, trying to keep score with these guys. The little things are unpredictable but one big thing is very predictable: for however many hours they occupy the stage, something good is going to go on. If they don’t get to your favorite song, there’s always next year. Music about the necessity of a good time isn’t about to go out of style.