The Mothership Falls on Birmingham with George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic and Grace Potter (w/ Poll)

Posted September 28, 2013 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Two big concerts on one Humpday: George Clinton’s P-Funk conclave rocks Avondale Brewing Company, while Grace Potter & the Nocturnals live show at Iron City proves their albums are only half of the story


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Before my time on Earth arrived, George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic and their lavish 2-hour live sets were the Real Deal. The only thing in black entertainment that compared to its gigantic magnificence would have been Earth, Wind & Fire, and that would have to also include their welterweight opening acts. At their zenith somewhere between 1977 and ’78, the P-Funk machine seemed to be an unstoppable force, decorated with silly costumes, pyrotechnics and the must-see landing of their one-thousand pound aluminum Mothership. That huge centerpiece has since been retired (a replica of the 1978 UFO now sits in the Smithsonian). So have many of the all-stars that decorated Clinton’s army; Bootsy Collins, Walter Morrison and Bernie Worrell have taken the funk with them in their own split groups while many greats like Garry Shider and Eddie Hazel are deceased. But the 72-year old ringleader remains the centerpiece of the more evolved super group.

Nowadays, it doesn’t feel so super. There’s no spaceship, no serious pomp and circumstance, no loud and proud brass section, no “weed and feed” gestures and no more Diaperman. When Clinton took to the stage on Wednesday, September 25 in the backyard of Avondale Brewing Company, he didn’t even cue up his obvious funk starter “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” or his 1975 Funkadelic gem “Let’s Take It to the Stage.” Instead he whips out a midtempo grower that coalesces itself around jam band antics. Right before thrusting his microphone into the stage amps to raise the volume on the Michael “Kid Funkadelic” Hampton’s guitar ripping, Clinton gestures to the crowd with his hands for them to get in on the act. The prelude to the evening’s set list turns into a ten-minute workout, exhausting every corner of the groove and the people’s patience. The crowd grows hungry for the hits, and this is all part of Clinton’s ventriloquist act. He’s got the congregation tied to a string, pulling their every emotion as the time clock continues to tick with exceeding pressure. He eventually opens up his mouth to blurt out a few inaudible phrases using classic P-Funk ego on the opening lines of “I Wanna Know if It’s Good to You.” And the tone of the crowd seems to be changing, going from perky concertgoer to curious bystander. This is when traces of concern start to decorate the average face. Thankfully, he’s got a white boy on keyboards shouting out wicked gospel inflections and an ensemble of background singers testifying to the power of the One. They help Clinton regain his control, particularly when he jumps into a furious crowd sing-a-long (“Oh-ahh-yea/oh-ahh-haa”). Like a devil-possessed preacher, Clinton starts to shout “please don’t stop” way past his norm. Most shows, Clinton just waves his arms, observes the crowd of a thousand-plus and barks below the volume radar. But tonight, Clinton seemed most anxious in swinging down his sweet chariot for the strong gathering.

When the opening processional reaches its end, a murky voice penetrates the cloudy skies, saying “Think! It Ain’t Illegal Yet.” The short narrative, a trippy blurb of free thought cooked with remnants of Funkadelic philosophy, seems to put the crowd at ease, as it updates newcomers of what they are actually experiencing. “You had some idea of a guy with some rainbow colored hair,” the announcer says. “Well, I can assure you tonight you will be getting none of that. So to make it perfectly clear, that brother in that green plaid…the mack daddy up there: Everybody makes some noise for the real George Clinton.” The crowd erupts with joy while pouring their adoration towards a living legend who will easily go into the annals of history as being the savior of hip-hop. Those waiting for the Mothership to fall from the sky and all the nostalgic gimmicks that headlined their shows in the past were just reminded that today is a new day. Although the high expectations of the YouTube generation had been dashed, they were about to be hammered with a world of cosmic slop.

Within seconds of Clinton’s imperial introduction, “Flashlight” quickly cues up, exposing the drummer’s need to pound the bass with the vengeance of a Drumline troop. Out comes Sir Nose, a slinky Nick Cannon-looking gent dressed in white fur and L.A. pimp gear. Like the circus acts in P-Funk’s heyday, this recreation of Dr. Nose makes strange body contortions and acrobatic poses that shows that the funk can manifest itself in the flesh.  Probably the finest performance of the evening, “Flashlight” showed off the band’s aggression and a thunderous replica of the already-perfect album version. Everything that followed only satisfied the appetite of the hungry. “(Not Just (Knee Deep),” that highly piece of sampled G-funk groove, fell almost into ballad-like territory. “Tear the Roof of the Sucker (We Want the Funk)” also seemed a bit disjointed and lacked some of the spunk heard in its classic manifestation. Much of the blame can fall on the in and out-of-tune trumpet blasts. As the show continues, Mary Griffin showed off her pipes on the Gnarls Barkley “Crazy,” squalling with Millie Jackson thunder like the prima donna of the Brides of Funkenstein. Moments like that gave Clinton a kiss to his ego. Even if he was considered to be too dapper in the physical – walking around using the cool of Mr. Biggs, Clinton needed to re-certify his larger-than-life presence. And as the longtime ringleader, he led his sixteen-member unit on that tight outdoor stage with ease. He also proved to the mostly white crowd that funk deserves to be in the conversation of rock purists. It’s a different groove, but it still kicks ass.

This night, Clinton had a tough job on his plate. Right before Parliament/Funkadelic took to the stage, Nashville/Alabama-based rock/funk band Downright showed off the finest cuts from their ten-year catalog. They were traces of Hall & Oates harmonies, Maroon 5 pop (“Get Yourself Free”) and “shake-yo-ass” funk (“Fishbowl,” “Hidden Agenda”). Even with their college boy band looks and their lily white skin, these gents paved the way for Clinton’s arrival, even if their vigor and youth may have posed a threat to their arrival.

On the other side of town, another pillar of funk was rising to the stage. At Birmingham’s Iron City, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were set to perform before a sold-out event. The Vermont-based blues rock band exploded into mainstream consciousness with their successful self-titled LP in 2010. Ever since then, they have been playing at major festivals and large venues across the globe. Iron City, one of Birmingham’s hottest new soundstages, proved to be a perfect venue for them while making their pilgrimage to the American south. And the audience on this Wednesday night, which has multiplied since releasing their breakout record and performing at Birmingham’s now-defunct City Stages festival in 2008, were more than prepared to experience what other fans have already raved about.

Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” and Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” can be heard blasting through the sound’s delicious system, trying to numb all the chatter from the beer-drinking party people anxious to see Wednesday’s night feature presentation. To be quite frank, the crowd probably had no idea that George Clinton was in town, especially since their date with Grace Potter was announced as a sold-out affair many weeks before the day, but they knew something funky was heading their way. On a good night, Potter and her band are like a raging Janis Joplin backed up by Aerosmith rage. Potter, the band’s frontlady, is an across-the-board rarity in music. She first comes across as a piece of eye candy, showing off her sexy legs, long blond hair and Taylor Swift-esque youth. As she enters into her set, she shows off her amazing versatility as a musician. She rocks the tambourines, then picks up her axe and jumps on the huge Hammond B-3 console for some throwback blues. And she waves her hair in the spirit of rockstar rebellion, giving her screaming adorers, which is surprisingly female, a critical boost in ego.  Young rockers are very few and far in between. There’s Joplin, Heart, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar and then there’s the rest. Potter deserves to be in the upper deck, especially as she rages through her guitar solo on the bluesy spiritual “Take Me Down to the River.” Using a mesh of gospel-style belting and devilish guitar shredding, Potter comes off sounding like a love child to the sacred and profane. She doesn’t use F-bombs or rants about drugs, but her onstage pageantry proves to be the spaced-out workouts all Guitar Hero welders idolize to be. The girls in the crowd see her as their real life Barbie, a buoyant manifestation of girl power and. The guys simply just want her. They don’t look like the kind that would have wall posters of her enshrined in their bedrooms, but in the back of their minds those images are probably there.

With four albums ascribed to their name, Potter & the Nocturnals give the crowd much more than what they normally digest: “Paris (Oh La La)” becomes a stunning arena-rock sing-a-long; “The Lion the Beast the Beat” transforms into a muscular, sweaty display of rock ‘n soul; “Medicine” becomes contagious to the ear at the first listen of the chorus. She flirts with psychedelic fuzz right before she pays homage to Bill Withers with “Grandma’s Hands,” a tune that sounds especially personal and reflective coming from her pipes. For those who have only experienced her music via an iPod, the live experience is about the only way you’re going to taste their brew of rock nirvana. In a live show, like on this particular night in Birmingham, Potter and her powerful band don’t hold anything back. There are no highs and lows, no sloppy fillers; it’s all immense with goodness and unforgettable exploration. It’s even better when you’re being handed free drinks by a cool surfer dude that’s so into the science of rock n’ roll. “You see those girls down there,” Brian Plott says, while pointing at the crowd of twentysomethings in the pit. “They want to be her.” Jealousy can be such an evil toy to play with, but in the hands of the careful it can be turned into a lesson maker. Potter is giving them the goods, displaying perfectly what a rock chick should sound and look like. Whether they meddle in a depressing pool of envy is entirely up to them.



George Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic regime ruled the land of exploratory funk throughout the 1970’s, giving birth to one of the most sampled music catalogs in the world. We want to know what’s your favorite P-Funk album of the selected bunch. You can also vote for multiple choices. And feel free to come by to the poll and vote again. Oh, and tell a friend.  Spread the funk.



About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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