George Clinton and his Parliament Funkadelic turned Riverfront Park into a ’70’s dance house with a steady driving bass drum, blaring horns and male vocals — high and low — repeating lines like “Free your mind,” “make my funk the p-funk,” and “get up for the down.”
Thursday’s Alive at Five was packed. You had to work your way through the crowd just to get a glimpse of the stage. There were as many people on the lawn listening and dancing, with no visibility, as there were in the amphitheater.
Clinton, no longer looking like the wild Dr. Funkenstein, sported a plain blue shirt and short hair. But he still has the knack to organize a group of 15 musicians — all jammed onto the stage together — into a solid funk sound.
Songs were few and long. “Flashlight” went for 10-plus minutes, highlighted by a jazzy trumpet solo that lasted at least five choruses and had different guys on stage calling out different vocal lines to shift the energy. Through it all, the diverse amphitheater crowd shook to the beat.
A few raindrops fell halfway through the show, and umbrellas instantly went up for a few minutes before coming down for good. The threat of rain came during an instrumental ballad that featured a lengthy and fantastic guitar solo — in the spirit of Prince and Jimi Hendrix — that turned into an all-out jam for the rhythm section, a reminder of Clinton’s affinity for psychedelic acid-rock. It also showed the band could reach far beyond the borders of straight funk.
The crowd sang along for most of the choruses, starting with “Give Up the Funk,” with everyone singing softly with the band, “a whole lotta rhythm going on.”
“So high you can’t get over it,” “Do you promise the funk, the whole funk and nothing but the funk,” and “We need the funk” were typical shouts from the various vocalists on stage, including Clinton. Clinton did not always have the largest stage presence, nor appear to be leading the group at every moment, but the show was clearly his.
For an encore, Clinton introduced Garrett Shider, son of longtime P-Funk member, the late Garry Shider. The younger Shider sang a rowdy “One Nation Under Groove,” demanding more energy from the crowd and the band as the song went deeper and deeper. A slapping funky bass solo cut the song in the middle, but somehow, amid all those notes, it sustained the dance energy.
Not everything performed was funk — they veered a few times into guitar-heavy rock — but the crowd was happy to absorb anything Clinton’s group played. While the music is seen as light and simple these days, at the time, Clinton had transformed — invented — his brand of funk from soul music, and many consider it a seed to the yet-to-emerge rap music.
The local Funk Evolution opened the show with a 30-minute set of horn-packed covers. Brief but good, the 11 men (women don’t play funk?) blew hard on some Joe Walsh and Average White Band songs. Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” was their centerpiece; not exactly funk, but horn driven, and they tossed a few Zeppelin and Beatles vocal lines inside the tune for extra fun. It was a good, strong sound worth checking out in a local club.