In town as part of the African Festival of the Arts (continuing through Monday), George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic performed Saturday night in Washington Park...
"If you was at Soldier Field in '78, raise your hand!" demanded George.
And it was a pertinent request, the type he didn't stop the show to ask in appearances earlier this year at Cubby Bear or elsewhere.
Because this is a crowd with which Clinton has some familiarity. Turning twenty-three this year, the African Festival of the Arts is familiar territory for him as he graced its stage in 2009 (a performance that saw a rare, surprise appearance from Sly Stone if you believe the YouTube video).
And there really couldn't be a more fitting venue for the funk pioneer as funk has always meant more than just simply great music.
The music has always been socially important too.
Clinton invented a genre of music that resonated with many, particularly African Americans, in funk in the seventies just as he legitimized a burgeoning genre of music in hip-hop in the nineties through his collaborations/samples with/by then newcomers like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and 2Pac. So his contributions to culture are immense and that's what this festival celebrates.
This seemed to be a crowd that the P-Funk All-Stars were comfortable in front of too. Gone from appearances in the last eighteen months at venues like Cubby Bear or the Horseshoe Casino were the over-the-top costumes. Everyone was a bit dressed down, letting the funk speak for itself.
Also different Saturday night was the scaled down length of the set. The Cubby Bear show in May clocked in at over three hours. But the festival setting always calls for a shorter set and Friday night, that sharpened edges, forcing the band to tighten things up over the course of about ninety minutes.
Not that Saturday's set had to be scaled down... Considering the fact that the set preceding Clinton on the Dee Parmer Woodtor Stage by Dwele was abruptly canceled.
That announcement came around 7:30PM and was made preceding the bestowment of the Grand BaBa and Grand YeYe titles upon Herb Kent and Carrie M. Austin respectively in recognition of their community contributions.
Dwele was scheduled to take the mainstage from 6:15PM to 7:30PM and the unexpected announcement was clearly a disappointment to those in the crowd who paid for a ticket and endured rainy conditions early in the day for a good spot in anticipation of that performance.
In a statement, festival representatives said of the cancelation: "Saturday’s performance by Neo Soul artist Dwele was canceled as resources for the festival were stretched by the high cost of renting portable generators to power the festival grounds and low attendance due to the weather."
But that didn't stop Clinton and company from delivering the best of the three sets that I've seen them perform in the past year.
Again, I feel that the shortened set forced the band to focus a bit. While I love the unexpected detours and incredible instrumental portions of the full, three hour set, Saturday's show was tight, spotlighting the hits, and George was as engaged as I've seen him. He was on.
In May, it was the guitar heroics of Michael "Kidd Funkadelic" Hampton that stole the show. But on Saturday, it was the psychadelic basslines of Jeff "Cherokee" Bunn that carried "I Bet You" to open it. In a P-Funk show, the band always stretches out to carry "One Nation Under a Groove," but Bunn's bass solo stood out on that Funkadelic classic too.
"Flash Light" finally drew what was initially a pretty sedate crowd to their feet and from that point on the party raged.
As we all know, there ain't no party like a P-Funk party 'cause a P-Funk party don't stop. Well, this one stopped... but not before a nearly fifteen minute version of "Atomic Dog" closed it out in style. Concertgoers rushed the stage to dance with Dr. Funkenstein as he fist bumped, barked and looked on bemused by it all, even posing onstage, midsong for a photo-op with the revellers. But make no mistake of who's in charge: George never skipped a beat.
When all was said and done, I left Saturday night saying for the third consecutive time that I saw him, "George was better tonight than he was last time."
To keep upping the ante like that at seventy-one years of age is impressive enough. But it's clear watching Clinton these days that he's on a mission: To entertain certainly but more to the point to recapture his musical legacy and to educate in the process.
The rainbow colored hair extensions and the tie-dye are gone. In their place these days is George Clinton clad in a suit and dressed to kill. And while the P-Funk stage show is still something to behold, the focus is squarely on the music. And Saturday at the African Festival of the Arts, the music was loud and resonant.