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Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I enjoyed black music a lot more back in the 60s and 70s, in the era of soul, rhythm and blues, Motown--all that cool stuff that sounded so great coming out of my cheap speakers. And I miss funk. I never really bought that many funk albums but it was nice having it around. That's why I'm glad Shout! Factory has released PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC: THE MOTHERSHIP CONNECTION LIVE 1976, because it's a reminder of just how much giddy fun this kind of stuff was.

Recorded at the Summit in Houston, Texas on Halloween night, this concert lasts about eighty minutes and consists of fourteen songs, all driven by that throbbing beat like one solid, ever-changing slab of funk. "Cosmic Slop" starts things off with some exquisite acid-rock lead guitar by Michael Hampton and is my favorite part of the concert because of it. This guy is really good. So is diaper-wearing rhythm guitar player Garry Shider, whose silky vocals are nicely reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield.

"Do That Stuff" and "Gamin' On Ya!" introduce the wild man himself, George Clinton, in the first of a series of freaky costumes and characters. We also meet his beautiful back-up singers Jeannette Washington and Debbie Wright, who add much to the show's already stunning visual appeal, and a solid horn section with Maceo Parker on sax and Rick Gardner on trumpet. Clarence "Fuzzy" Haskins takes James Brown-style lead vocals while wearing a bug-eyed mask on the rousing "Standing On the Verge of Gettin' It On", and Clinton keeps the groove going with "Undisco Kidd."

After the acapella interlude of "Children of Productions", singer-guitarist Glenn Goins takes over on "Mothership Connection (Star Child)" and "Swing Down Sweet Chariot." My favorite singer of the bunch, his soulful vocals manage to bring down the Mothership itself, a light-flashing, smoke-spewing spaceship that's as elaborate as the tour's budget would allow. Out steps Clinton as super-pimp "Dr. Funkenstein" and the show kicks into high gear with "Comin' Round the Mountain", "P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)", and "Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)." The finale, "Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples", brings opening acts Bootsy Collins' Rubber Band and Sly and the Family Stone (minus Sly, who was who-knows-where at the time) back onstage for the grand send-off of the Mothership. "Funkin' For Fun" serves as an encore.
This is music made for pure fun, combining soul, Hendrix-style acid rock, a little disco, and touches of James Brown and Curtis Mayfield all mixed together into one cosmic stew with George Clinton as its spaced-out ringmaster. The musicianship is first-rate but the mood is mostly playful, with party-time lyrics that sometimes predate Andrew "Dice" Clay--

"Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet
Snortin' some THC
Along came a spider, slid in beside her
Said, 'What's in the bag, bitch?'"

--which are beautifully counterpointed at times by the soul stylings of Goins and Shider and the straight-ahead funk of Haskins.

The only drawback to this DVD, which is presented in full-screen with 5.1 sound, is the source material. The lighting is too dark, the camera meanders around looking for action instead of anticipating it (we miss a lot), and the unseen audience can barely be heard, which detracts from what should be an exhilarating communal experience. Still, it's too late to go back and re-record the event so it's nice to have this record of it despite its flaws. At any rate, this DVD is well worth checking out for anyone in need of a dose of that P-Funk.


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