Still smokin’ after all these years


Co-Ed Magazine

"What's that? Sure, pass it up here!"

The metal-framed folding chairs placed aimlessly in the back of the Higher Ground Ballroom in South Burlington, Vt. were occupied with the immobile.

The venue had two crowded bars at opposite ends, both charging $5.50 for a meager cup.

The 45 minutes I spent idly near the front of the stage gave my ears time to adjust to the blaring tower of speakers facing the audience.

The crowd erupted with applause as George Clinton addressed them. Clinton’s trademark rainbow dreads were gone, and replacing them were a bright red blazer, striped tie and dark wool fedora.

Initially, I was disappointed to see some members weren’t present. Bootsy Collins has always served as the eccentric Bootzilla, and Bernie Worrell was a Parliament founder, known for his keyboard and synth expertise. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to suggest that if one were unfamiliar with Parliament, one might very well not recognize much of the group at all considering the lack of the aforementioned.

George introduced his band and the floor erupted in a flood of electric and vocal revelry. The acoustics of the hall carried the low percussive and frenzied vocals expected of authentic funk music.

Closer to the stage, it became apparent just how fanatic the fans were. All through the show, Parliament’s vocalists and stage dancers would offer the microphone to the mob of voracious energetic showgoers.

There was a clear distinction between the older George Clinton followers and the younger generation, mostly college students. Some of the attendees appeared as if they’d been fans since the band’s origins in the 1960s.

One element of the show that formed a clear distinction from the group’s traditional “Plainfield Funk” style was the integration of numerous musical talents. Clinton’s backup singers delivered a jazzy performance, while a younger male crew member amped the crowd up.

Parliament has surrendered some of its key members to age, George is certainly still kicking, and the addition of his daughter, Shonda Clinton, definitely gave the crowd something else to cheer about.

Shonda belted out rhymes and began rapping in tune with the instrumentals. By this point, the audience was invigorated with excitement.

The speakers reverberated from the keyboard during “Flashlight,” igniting the dormant vigor the crowd housed.

As soon as Shonda’s song “Somethin’ Stank” began, George drifted to the edge of the stage and beckoned to the crowd, a radiant grin spread across his face. No sooner than one would expect longtime cannabis connoisseur George Clinton to get a joint from the audience, he reached down and thanked the giver.

George lit up, briefly recoiled in a series coughs, enveloped center-stage in a hazy plume, and passed the joint off to other band members. The pungent aroma immediately overtook the room,the result of a combined effort of the band and fans to imbue the room in an overwhelming medley of marijuana fumes and spilled Switchback.

George’s toking started a chain reaction among his fans, now passing their own plant matter among themselves, much to the dismay of security.

The P-funk visionary and his contemporaries occasionally went off-stage or sat off to the side while the younger guitarist and his vocalists took center stage. This wasn’t a problem given that there were always at least six performers on-stage at one time.

The crowd settled down as the replacement lead guitarist wailed on his guitar during “Maggot Brain,” engrossing the crowd in the instrumental precision of what is highly regarded as one of Clinton’s most beautiful songs.

George Clinton is known for his pioneering entertainment. His Burlington performance is no exception.

Attention turned towards the left of the stage as a large skull head caricature emerged, atop a spaceship, for the “Mothership Connection” act.

As amusing as this was, the audience’s attention was truly aimed towards the repertoire of performers. From every angle there was either a dancer alluring the crowd, a microphone outstretched, or one of the backup vocalists was encouraging the crowd to sing along.

Halfway through the show, George beckons one of his female dancers to center stage. While her name and affiliation are never mentioned, the two exchange a graceful embrace. She captures the audiences attention with a playful dance routine.

Clinton stood off to the side and watched, with that familiar grin plastered on his face. The crowd absolutely ate it up.

The strobing lights settled, a bright overhead light cast upon the guest singer, refracting her glitter and makeup in a brilliant shimmer. For the first time since the show began, Clinton forfeited the attention of the audience to this attractive spectacle.

By the time Clinton’s final song “Atomic Dog” came around, the fans were noticeably fatigued, both hot and tired from dancing, scintallate from a glistening layer of communal perspiration. The front of the house and Parliament, were going out with a bang. The speakers buzzed and the stage lights overhead glided throughout the room, illuminating briefly anyone they happened to reach.

It was about halfway through the end of the song when Mr. Clinton gave an amiable smile and bowed off the stage.

While a large number of concert-goers left on the spot, some of them stayed propped in their chairs in the back discussing prior shows and concerts they’d gone to, and in no apparent rush to join the line at single-exit doorway which had now become a mosh pit.

George Clinton certainly left an impression on his viewers.

Despite being 72, Clinton is still touring and incorporating some other acts into his live performances. He played a lot of his most famous tunes, but he has shown that even with music evolving the way it is, there will always be a target audience large enough for the classics.

Despite the generational gap, “Dr. Funkenstein” has held a sway over unique subculture and style, delivering upbeat and soulful interaction between musician and follower.