George Clinton, on Tour, in the Motor City

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The energy in the Motor City Casino last week (March 9) when George Clinton’s latest Tour (Mardi Gras Madness Tour) rolled into town was shall we say, super electric. Clinton, who was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina, but who eventually made his way to the Motor City, to write for Motown Records, seemed to relish the return to one of the cities where his tours of yesteryear are like historical events for the ages.

I caught Clinton twice myself back in the 70’s (in D.C.) and this show, though in a smaller venue, and a tighter set, still had all of the energy of the performances where he became a musical legend and accomplished composer and artist of the genre known today as — Funk.

The Motor City Casino is not a huge sports arena but no worries, Dr. Funkenstein made it sound huge. The P Funk crew played many of their biggest hits in Detroit but they began the show with their first single in ages: “I’m Gon’ Make U Sick (The Antidote).” Over and over the band urged the audience to join the call and response: “I’m Gon’ Make U Sick…I’m Gon Make U Sick of Me…” It was new, but it was familiar because the bass was heavy, guitars rhythmic or rocking (or both), the drums bombarded, the keys kicked, and Clinton, dressed strangely as always, and surrounded by an endless stream of rappers, chanters, singers, and crowd encouragers, was in the middle guiding the latest funk he had created in his laboratory.

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The show itself was the usual non-stop barrage of experimental and traditional funk segments like a Parliament show from the 70’s. Clinton and his band played the big hits in the process too. “Flashlight,” “One Nation…”, “Knee Deep,” “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker,” and, of course, one of the songs that defined his art — “Mothership Connection,” the tune that felt the most nostalgic for the old days, even though the mothership, safe and sound at the Smithsonian now, would not actually be landing on this tour. Even a slow boiling, “Night of the Thumposorous People” caught the audience off guard and drove home again the truth that Clinton is a major music genius who is overlooked oftentimes because of the absurdity of his productions.

Clinton, gracious, and chance taking, also gave the stage to several rappers he has in tow now, including his grandson, Trazae, and to slow the pace, another rendition of “Maggot Brain,” blessed the loyal fans who cherish these pulls from the old catalog.

At the end, and after nearly two hours, Clinton, seemingly exhausted, gave the audience the song most synonymous with the George Clinton version of the P Funk bands — “Atomic Dog.” And like on many of the other songs the band played, the audience knew most of the words and the band barely had to sing a word. It was so loud at times, you could barely tell who was singing, the band, or the audience, or both. It was just part of another amazing performance by Clinton’s funk machine, getting down, in the Motor City, for the funk of it.

Numbers runner. Cigar smoker.

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