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George Clinton & Funkadelic (live at The Electric Ballroom)

7 August 2015

It’s a balmy Friday night in old London Town, and the Mothership has just landed on Camden’s Electric Ballroom, bringing its message of light, love and lavatory humour in the form of George Clinton and Funkadelic. And godDAMN if he still isn’t the best pilot it could ever wish for.

Way into his seventies at this point, having been making music since NINETEEN FIFTY-FUCKING-EIGHT, he’s still got the funk. Indeed, he’s still got so much funk that it takes — how many people is that? Fifteen, sixteen? — to help him carry it. Hard to tell just how many are on stage, given the constant movement, stage-taking and soloing, but there sure are a lot of the buggers.

George Clinton and Funkadelic live 2015

George has lost the multi-coloured dreads and now dresses like a revivalist preacher who’s been run out of town for lewd behaviour and set up a used car business, but he’s still one hell of a bandleader. When he’s not crooning, screaming or otherwise exhorting the audience on to further excesses of funkability, Clinton is wandering the stage like a diligent schoolteacher checking on his pupils’ work and gesturing his musicians around the stage like insanely funky chess pieces.

George Clinton and Funkadelic live 2015

Rapper, guitarist, sax player, all get their time in the limelight, but the whole thing’s so seamless it’s like a constantly spinning roulette wheel of funk, chucking up awesome musical interludes seemingly at random, while all around the beat goes on. Funk, soul, hip-hop and psychedelic rock all merge into a crazy otherworldly jam that, essentially, lasts for two and a half hours straight. Constantly changing but always relentless, it’s like a Swans gig for happy people.

And boy, are we happy. There’s a real sense of community in the room; like just this once, for want of a phrase without such nasty connotations, we really ARE all in it together, and the only thing separating any one of us from anyone on stage is that they’re actually making the music. (Well, also the fact that they can all almost certainly dance better than you or I, and the even more alarming fact that if, say, I were to start a funk band, there would be fewer people in the audience than there currently are on stage, whereas when George does it, he sells out the venue).

George Clinton and Funkadelic live 2015

It’s as much event as gig, like a whole festival condensed onto one stage. Which is what you’d expect from a band who hobnobbed with the Happening-loving Process Church Of The Final Judgment (with whom they also share a love of convoluted cosmology; in Funkadelic’s case, though, it’s more to do with maggot brains, alien spaceships and scatological jokes rather than Christ and Satan being reunited at the Apocalypse) and were a key inspiration for Psychic TV‘s marathon gigs in the ’90s. And there must be something a BIT cult-like about the whole affair — the fact that I have never in my life enthusiastically applauded a sax solo until tonight has to count for something, right?

George Clinton and Funkadelic live 2015

Last time I was here was to see Laibach‘s explication of the very madness-of-crowds phenomenon that Funkadelic are displaying tonight, although in this case it’s an object lesson in how that madness can be channelled for more uplifting, fun and, dare I say it, spiritual ends. As I say, Clinton’s got a whole revivalist preacher/car salesman thing going on, with the charisma of both but a better bill of goods than either.

George Clinton and Funkadelic live 2015

There’s a lot going on, basically. Just when you think the crowd can’t get any more funked up after two hours of non-stop music (much of which is taken from their latest, epic triple album First You Gotta Shake The Gate), they turn the funk up to eleven for a storming “One Nation Under A Groove”, when the audience, pretty much ALL of them, do indeed become part of the show by adding a thousand-strong chorus to the vocals of the latest generation of the Brides Of Funkenstein.

I don’t think I’ve seen a crowd this genuinely, shit-eating-grin happy since Shonen Knife (though admittedly my frequent choice of gigs played by and for the stern-faced may have a lot to do with it). And nobody’s happier than George, who’s essentially just done the funk equivalent of conducting a long-ass Wagner opera while also doing a bunch of the singing. Oh, and choosing each member of the orchestra, too, all of whom are world-class kick-ass musicians.

George Clinton and Funkadelic live 2015

If, like me, you love Funkadelic but just aren’t sure whether George has still got it, then rest assured, he has. And he’s got plenty to share. And as long as we’re not talking about the greetings card chain, you’d be a fool not to buy what Clinton’s selling.

-Words: Justin Farrington-
-Pictures: Dave Pettit-

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