BERKELEY — “Godfather of Funk” George Clinton performed for two full hours Tuesday at Cornerstone as his large ensemble, laid down distinguished grooves and tested the party stamina of the sold-out crowd.
Chant-along refrains and opportunities to jump in unison compelled the audience to participate. Onstage, the cast rotated with regularity, as a variety of MCs, singers and musicians took turns in the spotlight.
Clinton’s first appearance was preceded by a preview of Parliament-Funkadelic’s singers and dancers. Durable drummer Benjamin “Benzel Baltimore” Cowan arrived onstage with the first group, and two hours later, was among the last to leave. His neon-flashing sunglasses, beard and tall hat stood out as he laid down the stout funk backbone of Clinton’s songs. Duo Kandy Apple Redd, comprised of a pair of Clinton’s granddaughters, spiced things up with sultry dance moves and smoky melodies.
Then the man himself walked slowly onstage. Clinton wore a fedora, large sunglasses, and a trench coat depicting a map of the world with Africa as its center. He led the group in an energetic take on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away.” Some six MCs recited the entire song in unison over a hypnotic beat.
Clinton downplayed his legend status. Tiring frequently, the 78-year-old funk founder satisfied himself with overseeing the events. He frequently entreated fans to lend their voices. On “Pole Power” he came up front to shush the crowd into a collective whisper before bringing it up again. Then he sat down on a chair in front of the drums, smiling contentedly. His big mirthful presence gave him the air of a party boss in the funnest sense.
The legendary psychedelia of P-Funk came through in splashes. During a high point of sound and energy, Clinton himself bellowed elephant sounds over the din. Meanwhile, a lithe tigress of a woman with blonde dreadlocked antennae sashayed among the seething mass of performers. The stage could barely contain them all.
The group thinned somewhat, however, for “Cholly” as funk got “ready to roll.”
Two musicians distinguished themselves.
Long-time P-Funk saxophonist Greg Thomas unleashed a pair of blistering solos in the middle of the set. He introduced himself on the first solo with a single interminable, undulating note. He appeared to employ circular breathing as he sustained the note for more than 60 seconds. A few songs later he burst forth with a scat solo.
Another arresting performance came from the expressionless DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight, who owned the epic guitar solo on “Maggot Brain.” McKnight played a customized teal Fender Stratocaster, squeezing out a tone so sharp and hot it could cut through steel. He echoed several melodic passages from original Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel’s classic recording.
Performers came and went. Kandy Apple Redd returned for a soft duet, accented by high-gain Led Zeppelin riffs from McKnight. An impassioned piano solo was constrained by a muffled front-of-house mix. Long-time bassist Lige Curry was barely visible in the back corner, but was sublimely felt in the rhythms. A host of MCs led party-raps and slinky jams. Everyone had some degree of freedom to explore their own trip.
All this movement made it occasionally difficult to tell what was going on. The songs blended one into the other like one long, funked-out meta-jam. There seemed to be several microphone malfunctions and there were, at times around 15 people onstage. Some wore costumes ranging from zany to wacky, while others sported casual clothing. Yet a strong sense of togetherness pervaded—the melange all seemed to belong. All enjoyed shining individual moments.
And if details blurred, the big picture remained clear: have a good time. People moved, clapped and shouted along at Clinton’s command. Often he held out the microphone to the crowd while his group howled and shouted slogans with subliminal heft, such as “Think, think! It ain’t illegal yet!” Clinton lorded over it all, as much an observer as the director of the orchestra. From his irrepressible smile and the madness in his eyes, one thing was clear: Clinton is justifiably proud of all the chaos he has wrought.
Follow writer Alexander Baechle at Instagram.com/writheinsmoke.