Last Night: George Clinton Stinks it up at The Showbox

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Jonathan Cunningham
There was a time when a headline like that was a good thing. George Clinton, 68, is one of the patriarchs of funk, the architect of cosmic slop, and a man who once headed the funkiest (and freakiest) group of black musicians to ever play together on stage. But realistically, all of that was 30 years ago, and last night, Clinton and his sorry version of Parliament Funkadelic were plain terrible. And from this vantage point, I'd say it's time for Clinton to hang it up.

From the moment I walked into the Showbox, or before I'd even approached the door, I said to myself, "damn, that doesn't sound like George Clinton, there must be an opener." I was somewhat mad at myself for showing up too early. The voice was all haggard and scraggly; more like a drunken uncle at karaoke than a rock' n' roll legend. But sure enough, that was Clinton up there, seemingly doing the best that he could, with a vocal range that's barely 30% of what it used to be. Years and years of touring and partying hard (along with working hard) have all caught up to Clinton. People have been saying that about him for over a decade and at this point, it's just bad.

It's not like I want to rag on the guy, he's unquestionably a legend and a pioneer of freak folk, freak funk, acid jazz, blacktronica, and is just a rock 'n' roll bad-ass. But last night's show was not worth $30. The fact that they even con people into paying that price seems criminal. $15 would have been more accurate. He could barely sing, he could barely dance, and he mostly propped himself up against the microphone stand, waved his hands at the crowd from time to time, or just sort of bent over with his back to the crowd and hid behind his giant wig so that we couldn't see his face.

George Clinton Seattle 3.jpg
Jonathan Cunningham
None of that can be easy on Clinton himself, and I'm not blind to that. Aging is a hard enough process as it is--throw 40 years of drug abuse in the mix and it's like, fuck. Mind you, I'm saying all of this about a guy and a band that was near and dear to my heart growing up. What Parliament-Funkadelic did in the '70s musically was akin to what Fela Kuti and his Afrika 70 band did in Nigeria at the same time. They challenged all the rules about the way music should sound and what it meant to be funky. But last night's show really wasn't enjoyable as it was more junky than funky.

There were some bright spots however and he does have some young talent cycling through the band. The water balloon-chested woman appearing next to Clinton in the first photo sang like a cross between '80s-era Whitney Houston and mid '90s Mary J. Blige. That is to say, she can sing her ass off. And fellow vocalist Kendra Wilson wasn't bad either. But the bright spots happened mostly when Clinton stepped away from the mic. During one stretch, he disappear for roughly 40 minutes while the band played "Maggot Brains" and noodled through a few other instrumentals.

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Jonathan Cunningham
But looking at a grown man dressed up in a diaper, or wearing a wedding dress, and still holding on to an image that was already stale 25 years ago seems lame. What made them so singular and appealing long ago was their ability to be ahead. Who knew they'd still be stuck there. For what it's worth, the hits were enjoyable. "One Nation Under a Groove," "Flash Light," "Tear the Roof Off The Sucka," "Mothership Connection (Star Child)" and a few others were fun to sing along with. And there were four decades worth of fans in attendance that knew all the words -- from college undergrads to the AARP crowd. Maybe they both enjoyed the show more than me. But I say Mr. Clinton needs to bow out and retire. Hell, at one point, his granddaughter (who didn't look a day under 25) got on stage and rapped with him. As cute as that is, the Joe Paterno of funk should retire already and let his body get some rest.
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