Keen-eyed observers will note that this is not George Clinton’s first farewell tour: he was supposed to quit the road in 2018, which, at the time, he said was “part of a plan” he had conceived several years previously. Said plan has clearly been redrawn. A few weeks shy of his 81st birthday, Clinton is on the stage again, clad in sequinned trousers, a sailor’s hat with a huge eye on it and something that looks like an ancient Egyptian collar made out of holographic material – an outfit that may well constitute George Clinton’s idea of dressing down in a manner befitting his advanced years.
His role in live shows has diminished over time, although it’s still more than you suspect your average octogenarian could muster: when he’s not adding vocal interjections, dancing or beckoning for more applause, he retreats to a seat at the rear of the stage.
You could never accuse the current incarnation of Parliament-Funkadelic of not compensating. The band is still as gleefully overstaffed as at their 1970s height – at points there are eight vocalists performing at once – and Clinton presides over a kind of barely-controlled chaos: musicians wander on and off stage, swapping instruments and roles. At one point, a singer reappears both wielding a guitar and stripped to his underpants. They sound fantastic, fusing together what are effectively Parliament-Funkadelic’s greatest hits – Up for the Down Stroke, One Nation Under a Groove, Flashlight – into sprawling medleys that devolve into lengthy jams.
These underline what a broad musical universe Clinton’s brand of funk was. Michael Hampton, who was a 17-year-old prodigy, Kidd Funkadelic, when he first joined Clinton in 1975, delivers stinging acid-rock guitar solos. Greg Thomas’s sax and Greg Boyer’s trombone are audibly informed by jazz – during one solo Boyer quotes from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, and during a lengthy (Not Just) Knee Deep, Thomas leads the audience in a scat-singing call-and-response derived from Cab Calloway.
As always in the P-Funk universe, the sublime happily co-exists with the ridiculous, both on stage and in the audience, where a gentleman who looks like he could conceivably be a bank manager sports a homemade T-shirt bearing the title of Funkadelic’s 1975 song No Head, No Backstage Pass. From his back seat, Clinton wears a broad grin: a patriarch of misrule to the end.
George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic are on tour in the UK until 28 May.