For nearly 50 years, George Clinton’s music (be it solo or with the Parliament-Funkadelic composite) has transported listeners to a bizarre world of inhibition-free psychedelia. As a testament to his influence as a funk pioneer and creator of oddball iconography, the Mothership — a renowned set piece from Parliament-Funkadelic’s prime years and a vehicle for their journey to the wild side — currently resides in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. But even with his legacy firmly cemented on hallowed, unearthly ground, Clinton has pushed ahead into the 21st century.
Although Clinton has steadily released new music and collaborated with other artists through the years, Parliament hadn’t released an album since 1980 — until May’s “Medicaid Fraud Dogg,” a characteristically weird censure of the pharmaceutical industry. The band has been revamped to include a new generation of performers, but the spirit (and, of course, the funk), lives on throughout the record’s 106-minute duration. Just ahead of its release, the 77-year-old Clinton announced that he will retire from touring next year, but the P-Funk will rage on without him. Thursday night’s performance at the 9:30 Club, which bled into the early hours of Friday morning, honored Clinton while offering a glimpse of the future.
The show began with the groovy drag of “I’m Gon Make U Sick o’ Me,” the lead single from “Medicaid Fraud Dogg.” Because the fluid nature of Parliament-Funkadelic live performances allows for plenty of freedom, Clinton incorporated an interpolation of sweaty 2003 hit “Get Low” by Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz feat. Ying Yang Twins for good measure. Clinton has been very influential to hip-hop artists past and present (see: Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” for example), but he’s quick to show the appreciation goes both ways.
Deep into the seminal “(Not Just) Knee Deep’s” 15-minute runtime, Clinton riffed on a Big Sean song (with an unprintable name). The band also performed the remix of “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You,” complete with verses from Lamar and Ice Cube. And while the group’s embrace of hip-hop certainly bodes well for its future, the numerous hits from its peak will always be the centerpiece of a Parliament-Funkadelic show.
What’s truly remarkable about Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic is how their songs can bleed together in a live setting. It’s the beauty of party records from that era: They were created for listeners to dance to until complete exhaustion strikes. A hazy performance of “Flash Light,” the ultimate party record, can flow almost seamlessly into the aforementioned “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” And their proficiency for experimentation and improvisation made the stretch from “Aqua Boogie” to “Up for the Down Stroke,” “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” and “One Nation Under a Groove” feel like one extended song.
At several points during the evening, Clinton took a back seat to other band members. On “Maggot Brain,” of course, it was to guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight, who impressively replicated the late Eddie Hazel’s legendary guitar solo. Other times, it was to Clinton’s own grandchildren. These are signs that Parliament-Funkadelic will be in good hands when Clinton steps aside next spring.