Parliament Funkadelic - Thalia Hall, Chicago

by Texacaliago Rating: Release Date:
Parliament Funkadelic - Thalia Hall, Chicago
Parliament Funkadelic - Thalia Hall, Chicago

Like most children of the 90s, my first introduction to George Clinton came from the throbbing bass and deeply rhythmic groove and swagger that characterized the west coast G-Funk era of hip-hop that dominated much of the decade.  By sampling heavily from Clinton’s classic Parliament/Funkadelic records, legendary rapper/producer-extraordinaire Dr. Dre added a new dynamic to the genre and took hip-hop to new heights both artistically and stylistically (not to mention commercially). It’s no coincidence that most of the best songs from that era featured either revamped classic Clinton choruses (i.e. Dre’s “Let Me Ride”, Snoop’s “What’s My Name?”, Cube’s “Bop Gun”, etc.) or featured Dr. Funkenstein himself guest starring directly on the given track, like on 2Pac’s vastly underrated “Can’t C Me”, or Outkast’s “Synthesizer” for example.

Simply put, George Clinton’s music provided the foundation that helped catapult hip-hop at large (and west coast gangsta rap in particular) into the stratosphere of popularity in the 90s. When you consider hip-hop’s longstanding grip on mainstream music (for better or worse), it’s safe to say that the genre has never really looked back since.

Which is all well and good I suppose, but for yours truly, the real gift of Clinton’s staggering influence on hip-hop in the 90s was that it opened a door to those aforementioned classic Parliament/Funkadelic records of the 70s. It exposed an entirely new generation of studious music fans to albums like the mind-blowing Maggot Brain, the dynamic Cosmic Slop, and the holy grail of P-Funk: Mothership Connection (just to name a few). All of those records display an incredible fusion of styles and originality that frankly make some of the hip-hop that they inspired (good as it was) sound one-note by comparison. George Clinton was able to brilliantly marry up gritty R&B with psychedelic rock (thanks in large part to the often awesome guitar-work of the late/great Eddie Hazel), along with infectious synthesized beats and a down and dirty groove. The result was the birth of funk music, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Fast-forward to 2018, and somewhat remarkably, The Godfather of Funk is still touring the world at the ripe old age of 76 as part of a refurbished version of Parliament/Funkadelic. He and his P-Funk family rolled into the Windy City to much fanfare Wednesday night, greeted by a sold-out and enthusiastic crowd at Thalia Hall.

The 2018 version of Parliament/Funkadelic is, not surprisingly, a bit more stripped-down (at least in terms of stage props, etc.) when compared to their epic heyday of the 70s. There were no exotic hairdos/outfits, space ships, smoke machines, lasers, etc. which is fair enough considering how long Mr. Clinton & company have been going at this. Nonetheless, it was a pretty crowded stage up there, with 3 or so backup singers (one of which was quite the twerker), a keyboardist, an occasional horn section (saxophonist was on point), a stray dancer or two here and there, a rotating cast of rappers (some with dubious mic skills/charisma), and of course the standard drummer/bassist/guitarist setup.

And then of course there’s that George Clinton guy. I was personally pretty curious to see how the 76 year old icon would hold up over the course of a high-energy 2+ hour set, and in a nutshell, he did a pretty damn good job! Granted, the man had to take more than a few breathers to chill-out and refresh every now and then, but for the most part, the dude was up singing and dancing and having a great time for the majority of the set. He had a certain goofy old-grandpa warmth to him as he shuffled around the stage, sometimes partaking in the festivities, directing traffic, dropping bars, making funny faces, often all at the same time. Essentially, George Clinton at 76 is everything that you or I could hope for when we reach that age: lively, joyful, and having a lot of fun doing what he loves. 

Not surprisingly, he seemed most invigorated when delivering the lines to some his classic songs, to which the audience would likewise respond in kind. Such was the case when they kicked-off their impressive  set with one of the greatest funk-rock songs of all-time and a personal favorite of mine: “Super Stupid”. A hard-hitting jam on record, it also packed a punch live and helped get things off to a fittingly raucous start. From there, the hits kept coming on songs like “P Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)”, “Give Up The Funk”, and “Flashlight” (a damn near 30 minute version no less).

But the highlight of the entire show for yours truly was Dwayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight's spirited performance of Eddie Hazel’s classic “Maggot Brain” (song) which arrived mid-set. One of the most epic guitar jams of all time (which is essentially one long-ass, mind-blowing solo), McKnight channeled the spirit of Eddie Hazel beautifully with a scorchingly fantastic display of soulful, acid-fried guitar playing that had the crowd roaring in approval. Legend has it Clinton originally told Hazel back in the day to “play the guitar like your mother just died”, and McKnight did a great job of conveying that type of emotion and spirit through his instrument. Incredibly awesome.

As the set wound to a close, George Clinton’s stamina and energy level seemed to surprisingly increase with each passing song. He actually gave his most full-throated performance of the night on the brand new Funkadelic song “I’m Gon Make You Sick of Me” which sounded pretty great live. The group arguably saved their best song of the night for last, closing things out with an awesome extended version of “Atomic Dog” which came across as the most overtly danceable song of the entire evening (which is really saying something).

The closing image of the night that’s burned into my brain personally is seeing George Clinton waving goodbye to a colorful audience of all shapes, sizes, ages, creeds, and races. It was nice to see so many beautiful people of all walks of life together under one roof having such a great time together, which is really what funk music is all about. In other words: one nation under a groove, getting down just for the funk of it. Cheers to that, and cheers to Parliament/Funkadelic still going strong in 2018.

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