George Clinton Begins His Four-Day Birthday Funkathon in S.F.
Legendary funk artist George Clinton turns 70 on July 22 and has been celebrating in the Bay Area all week with a birthday residency that began on July 4 with three shows at Yoshi's in Oakland and continues through Sunday at Yoshi's S.F. with two performances each night.
"You came to see George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic and you probably expected to see some rainbow-colored hair," bellowed an announcer at the first S.F. show last night. "But you're getting none of that. You are getting the real George Clinton!"
It was a shock to see Clinton without those vibrant locks -- somehow, we had convinced ourselves that they were all natural -- and, with his beard dyed dark and his head topped with a nautical cap, we were fooled at first into thinking he was some other dude.
The Yoshi's stage is too small to fit the Mothership, and is a tight squeeze for the more than a dozen instrumentalists and singers who were with Clinton, but the size constraints actually gave the show an intimate feel.
The 90-minute show was billed as "nothing but hits." Captain Clinton and crew adhered to the formula but presented lengthy and elaborate arrangements of them all, including "We Want the Funk" and "Not Just Knee Deep," pitching down most of the tunes a bit so that they were slower, loping, and somehow funkier. Despite the sprawl of the band, it was a tight unit. When the songs would delve into Hendrixian territory, as on the mad guitar solo that closed out "Atomic Dog," Clinton would seemingly go into a deep trance state, throw the goat, and pluck air strings with frightening efficacy.
At one point in the middle of a lengthy interpretation of "Flash Light," Clinton needed a smoke break and lit a joint while a female rapper called Sativa crafted an interlude, rhyming, "I smell stank and I want some!" The venue has a vehement antismoking policy and tends to toss out people for just thinking about lighting up, but security wasn't about to interrupt this moment (though copycat audience members didn't have the same fate).
At 70, Clinton is still alive and funking, with an energy level that would be admirable for someone half his age. In between some songs, he'd lapse into a familiar refrain, leading the crowd: "We got that doo doo, we got that shit!"
Personal bias: Had been wanting to see Clinton live since a missed opportunity in high school (and that was a long time ago).
Random detail: Some random white guy in an argyle sweater jumped onstage and started singing backup on "Atomic Dog" -- we have no idea why this happened, but we still feel a twinge of jealousy.
By the way: Last night, the house offered the early show audience readmission to the late show for just $10, a drastic savings from the $50 ticket price.