After a sudden burst of “a thousand kilowatts for P-Funk,” from the speakers (photographers reeled back at the sonic blast), all four music stages of the festival must be aware of the next act following the soulful velvety Gregory Porter. The announcer informs us that we are witnessing the completion of the holy trinity of funk at Newport: First, there was James Brown, then Sly Stone, and finally George Clinton, founder of Parliament, Funkadelic, and P-Funk.
In characteristic Clinton style, he enters wearing a bizarre futuristic white HAZMAT suit, which he immediately disrobes. As the bass strums straight into his latest single “I’m Gonna Make U Sick O Me.” Clinton exclaims “I’m gonna give you the antidote!”. In a collage of Parliament and Funkadelic graphics T-shirt, and a smart brimmed hat, which reads Maggot Brain in gold, the title of his 1968 Funkadelic album, Clinton and his ensemble appear less flamboyant than decades earlier, but that is understandable given his long career wearing outrageous glam-funk stage fashion.
There’s more of a contemporary hip-hop vibe going on, fueled by rap artist Scarface, member of Geto Boys and a Def Jam Exec. This track, in particular mashes up elements of earlier Parliament tunes, but attempts to bring it all together into a coherent, yet separate piece Lyrically, it sounds like Clinton is once more reminding us that the antidote to so much of what we need, personally, politically, socially, is funk, which he often uses as a metaphor to great effect. His vision of an omnipotent funk, P-Funk, is at the core since the late 60’s, and in that regard his musical influence is supremely idiosyncratic, yet universally influential.
With his 19 piece ensemble, it is hard to take it all in at times. Clinton, when not singing, directs encourages, or highlights the variety of musical talent on stage. At times a wall of funky righteousness, mixed with ripping guitar, courtesy of grandson Trafael Lewis, clad in tight white string boxers, and colorful dreads, the sound ebbed and flowed between the insane and the sweet soul of female singers, Brandi Scott and Tonysha Nelson. Veteran member guitarist Dwayne McKnight kept the deep roots of Funkadelic vibe alive throughout. Sir Nose, a satyr-like character and nemesis-of-P-Funk ,within the mythology of Parliament/Funkadelic/Bootsy’s Rubber Band, adds more theatricality with his bare-clad torso, white furry pants,, Pinocchio nose, which reads “Fuck George”, while performing intense yoga scorpion poses on top of the speakers.
Classics tunes such as “Knee Deep,” “Atomic Dog,” “ Give up the Funk,” are interspaced with new pieces “Psychotropic, “and hip-hop/Red Hot Chili Peppers (Clinton produced their 1985 album Freaky Styley) derived “Mama Told Me.” Though rap is natural and willing partner for Clinton funk, courtesy of grandson and vocalists Trazae Lewis Clinton and Bouvier Richardson, and storytelling, the musicality and sheer inventiveness of his oeuvre still remain his most identifiable and potent gift. However, a sea of youthful bodies jumping and cheering in the audience to both old and new music indicate there is still much to be said, enjoyed, and learned from the Mothership, whose earth tour with Clinton at the commander’s seat will end next year.