"If you hear any noise, it's me and the boys..."
Live 1976 - The Mothership Connection
3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
So funked George Clinton, the spaced out Captain of the Parliament Funkadelic's interplanetary opera, "The Mothership Connection."
Shout Factory has harnessed the funk with a 14-song, 85-minute Funkadelic DVD. The concert film was shot during the oddball aggregation's "Mothership Connection" promotional tour, for which Clinton spent half a million dollars to create an inflatable silver Cadillac pimp mobile and a fog-belching U.F.O. that descended on stage like a heavenly chariot. He also outfitted his troupe, who numbered as many as 18 singers and musicians, as leather bound aliens and Mac Daddy's in an attempt to tell the story of a "Mothership" that was coming to take "his people" back home. The fact that Clinton even has people is mystifying, but entertaining.
The Parliament Funkadelic was hatched from the inertia of the Parliament, a New Jersey soul group featuring Clinton, Calvin "Fuzzy" Haskins, Ray "Stingray" Davis, Calvin "No Nickname" Simon and Grady "No Nickname Either" Thomas. The Parliament had hit the top twenty in 1967 with "(I Wanna) Testify," a slick slice of sexy, soulful R & B. After the promising success of "Testify," the group floundered, so Clinton felt it was time for a change of direction. Noting the success of take no prisoners artists like Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone, Clinton came up with his own musical concoction: Space Funk. Clinton took Rock and R &B's established musical boundaries, added generous portions of funk and psychedelia, combining them with his interest in the pyramids and interstellar travel, then topped the strange brew off with some head-spinning hemp. The results were two staggeringly spacey L.P.s, 1970's "Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow" and 1971's "Maggot Brain." The titles alone are a hint that George didn't shy away from primal descriptions that would make Frank Zappa blush. In 1975 the group released "The Mothership Connection," a concept album that Clinton described as his vision of what life would be like for black people in outer space. The P-Funk peeps liked what they heard, making the "Mothership" the group's first gold record.
Many of the songs are extended jams with no verses to speak of, just catchy choruses that get repeated more times than pork and beans. If Sly Stone was into acid instead of coke, he'd still be hard pressed to match Clinton's fractured funkiness. Despite Clinton's loose booty logic, one gets the feeling watching the concert that much of what goes on - from Clinton's bewigged, pimp-posing entrances to the actual descent of the Mothership - is choreographed down to the last funky footstep. The concert may play out like an interstellar episode of "In Living Colour," but several searing guitar passages and two short ensemble pieces show that if the Funkadelic had played it straight, they could've held their own against many of the rock acts of the day. For "Children of Productions," the ensemble promises "We're gonna blow the cobwebs out of your mind" - the proceeds to do it. In "Comin' Round the Mountain" (yes, a funkafied version of the folk song written in the 1800s), the vocalists lock into a bizarre urban nursery rhyme beat as they march around the stage like extraterrestrial zombies: "Comin' 'round the mountain when she come, ridin' two white horses when she come. Comin' 'round the mountain when she come, get out on the dance floor when she come."
For his "Mothership" excursion, Clinton put together one of the biggest, baddest troupes to get down in Houston. His spoken offstage prologue is only a hint of the E.T. excess to come: "Once upon a funk upon a time, in the day of the Funkapuss, the concept of special designed Afro cats capable of populating the universe was first laid on Manchild, but was later repossessed and placed among the secrets of the pyramids..." HUH? Get me some of what George is smokin'.
Taken individually, the soloists are quite impressive. Most notable is sombrero-wearing lead guitarist Michael Hampton, who throws down blazing guitar licks reminiscent of a cogent Jimi Hendrix. Hampton opens the show with the instrumental "Cosmic Slop," taking off with plenty of reverb. When you take into account that Hampton was fresh out of high school, playing seasoned rock riffs in a funk band, that's impressive.
The most famous Clinton alumni may be Bootsy Collins, a bassist famed for being a personality rather than a musician. Keyboardist Bernie Worwell (later with the Talking Heads and the Jack Bruce Band) is the band's other recognizable name. Worrell, wearing what looks like a giant rotting cauliflower, savages his synthesizer during "Undisco Kid."
Another mother to keep an eye on is the late Glenn Goins. Goins was a talented guitarist, but his forte was singing. His wailing in "Mothership Connection (Star Child)" is as
potent and buttery as Marvin Gaye carving up "Sexual Healing." It's his singing that "calls" the Mothership, a twinkling, smoke-emitting space taxi from which Clinton emerges dressed as "Dr. Funkenstein." Glen is rewarded for his vocal voracity with a shotgun (the non-bullet type) delivered by Clinton. When the smoke from the bulky spliff clears, Goins doesn't miss a note, despite being rendered momentarily bleary-eyed. Goins' gospel background is on display in "Funkin' For Fun." Unfortunately, as with most supremely talented beings, Goins died young at age 24, only two years after this concert was shot, a victim of Hodgkin's disease.
When Clinton came up with his idea of a traveling band if gypsy aliens, the rest of the original Parliament drank the Kool Aid, becoming featured P-Funksters. Clarence "Fuzzy" Haskins (wearing a pair of bug-eyed glasses that not only look painful, but hard to see through), steps up for "Standing In The Verge Of Getting It On," a raver in the tradition of James Brown, whom Haskins resembles when he shakes that thang. When he hits the high notes, Fuzzy the diminutive fly sounds like a precursor to Prince. Baritone brother Ray "Stingray" Davis, the group's Larry Graham, handles the bottom back ups on songs and gets to tear the roof off the sucka in "Give Up The Funk." The other founding members of the Parliament, Calvin Simon and Grady Thomas, (done up like a soul sheik), provide solid back up vocals throughout.
Clinton's horn section, a quartet featuring trumpeter Rick Gardiner, the only white member of the band, blasts with a locked-in bravado of James Brown's never-miss-a-beat bunch, and sways like Sly's soulful section. There's a connection between the three camps - saxophonist Maceo Parker and trombone player Fred Wesley both toiled for Brown, and the Funkadelic often opened for Sly and the Family Stone. When the group slips into the chaotic encore, "Night Of The Thumpasorus People," Clinton calls ex-band member Bootsy Collins on stage along with Sly and the Family Stone. Some of the Family makes it out for the rump-shakin' finale, but as far as I could tell, Sly stayed backstage.
Other notable performers include drummer Jerome Bailey, late of the Chambers Brothers, who somehow keeps the funk flowing for the entire concert, and guitarist Gary Snyder, who plays some impressive licks while licking a pacifier. You also have to give the dude credit for wearing a diaper on stage. Back up singer Jeanette Washington, dangling rabbit pelts from her glasses (apparently PETA didn't have a seat on the Mothership), can scream with the reckless abandon of Sly's trumpeter Cynthia Robinson. She's joined by Egyptian princess/cosmic hippie chick Debbie Wright, who despite her diminutive size, more than handles the hazards of hip hop harmony.
If you've never traveled onboard the Mothership, you might have trouble picking up where one song ends and another begins. Like fellow funkster James Brown, Clinton doesn't like to break between songs, so "Live" is an 85-minute grooveathon. Clinton also enjoys shaking the tree a bit - he uses expletives like ampersands and his free-flowing funk doesn't shy away from unfettered references to male and female naughty bits. If you're offended by "There once was a man from Venus" rhymes, then fast forward through Clinton's opening communication in "Do That Stuff."
If you're into P-Funk there isn't much to complain about because this is a piece of hip hop history - there's just not a lot of Funkadelic video out there. Because of it's age and Clinton's desire to keep the stage dark to enhance the entrances of his cosmic characters, there are parts where the screen goes black, or you might have to squint to get a glimpse of half-lit band members or an out of focus Mothership. Clinton also has the annoying habit of whistling loudly from time to time like a teamster let loose at a Miss America pageant. But if you put those distractions into perspective, you'll be glad you beamed on board Clinton's funky Mothership.