George Clinton: Live in Paris
Located almost directly in the center of France, Paris lacks the beautiful beaches found in coastal areas like St. Tropez. In 2002, the City of Light did something about it, creating a temporary artificial beach called Paris Plage every summer near the river Seine. And at the leafy outdoor performance space La Plage du Glazart (similar to Central Park’s annual SummerStage), Paris scatters plenty of sand underfoot for hundreds of French music lovers to take in shows, like a recent bill with George Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic revue.
At nearly eight o’clock, guitarist Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton kicked off the set with his electrifying solo turn on Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain,” as folks continued buying wine, beer, T-shirts and CDs from vendors. After ten minutes of nonstop guitar histrionics, the 53-year-old P-Funk All-Stars vet ended his signature piece to uproarious applause, one of the highlights of the mercurial night. A grissled George Clinton soon walked out from the sidelines dressed like a man half his age to the funk-rock strains of “Cosmic Slop,” tossing his famous multicolored braided wig out to the audience. Within the hour, he was puffing marijuana alongside his granddaughter, rapper Sativa.
The 69-year-old funk pioneer sported a large mustard-colored hoodie festooned with a galaxy of five-point stars, baggie black cargo pants and a black baseball cap. “Tonight ain’t no Parliament night,” he quickly announced in a gravely voice. “Tonight is a Funkadelic night.” Clinton’s announcement cued up Funkadelic’s 1970 single “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing,” guitar licks flying in all directions.
Three backup singers soon trooped out to stage left dressed in characteristic freaky-deke style: fishnet stockings, miniskirts, rollerskates, exposed booty. Some parents brought their pre-tweenage little girls to the show, knowing full well the colorful spectacle involved when George Clinton comes to town. But on many levels—most of them musical—Parliament-Funkadelic has seen better days. Long a funk-rock-soul equivalent of the Grateful Dead, Clinton’s troupe tours the world incessantly year after year, preaching the same setlist to the converted with increasingly diminishing returns.
Singer Belita Woods dropped the energy level with her languid rendition of the bluesy Negro spiritual “Motherless Child,” the first dip in a night of ups and downs. The problem? Woods’ voice. It’s hardly difficult to picture the P-Funk All-Stars involved in typical rock-star drug shenanigans backstage before the show. It’s altogether possible that the group’s party lifestyle has slowly impinged on the musical quality of their live shows. Though Clinton himself was never known for his vocal chops, singers in the band have to be, or performances break down.
Then came the hits. “Flash Light” marked the first of the night’s Parliament songs, always more commercially successful and well-known than the Funkadelic fan favorites. Carlos “Sir Nose” McMurray, his long Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk nose dutifully strapped on, appeared brandishing signs like FUCK GEORGE and JAMES CLOWNASS. By song’s end, the ever-unfunky Sir Nose—who in P-Funk mythology famously vows never to dance—gets converted to the funk and starts bellydancing with handstands and backflips.
Before dipping back into the Funkadelic catalog for “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” Clinton introduced Sativa Diva to the stage for her nightly number “Somethin’ Stank,” off the P-Funk All-Star’s 2005 How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent? “Somethin’ smell like a skunk and I want some,” she began, as her grandpa started soliciting weed from the crowd. As he puffed on joints handed to him from the audience, Sativa and the band segued into “Hard As Steel” (from her own 2003 rap début, Jersey Girl). And then the rain started.
Torrential downpours and outdoor venues don’t mix. “(Not Just) Knee Deep” began with a lot of French folks heading for either les toilettes or the métro trains. An intoxicated woman at the lip of the stage started giving unappreciated lapdances to a man in a wheelchair, eventually falling on her behind. The sand quickly became mud. Amid the chaos, the band turned things down a notch, introducing singer Mary Griffin for some blues numbers. Griffin summarily blew the house down, whipping and wailing her gospel-tinged vocals in concert with the sheets of Parisian rain.
Then, more hits. The precipitation let up and the band let loose with Parliament’s “Up for the Down Stroke.” The group barrelled through “Cookie Jar” (by old P-Funk vocalist Fuzzy Haskins), and singer Kendra Foster took full reign on the buoyant “Bounce 2 This.” “Ride On” ended the string of lesser-known tracks; “Atomic Dog” and “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” marked a superloud climax to the night. Things ended for good with “Testify,” Parliament’s gospely 1974 remake of “(I Wanna) Testify,” the only hit from George Clinton’s late-sixties Detroit soul outfit, The Parliaments. Once known for energizing four-hour concerts, the P-Funk All-Stars petered out at less than three. And Clinton—once a crack bandleader, songwriter and organizing presence—continually made one wonder what exactly his purpose is nowadays.