Local Current Blog

Review and photos: George Clinton and P-Funk go into overdrive at the Varsity

George Clinton at the Varsity Theater on July 17, 2018. All photos by Nate Ryan | MPR.

I wasn’t prepared. I mean, I brought my earplugs, comfy shoes, and ID to the Varsity Theater last night. But by no means was I mentally prepared to take in the funk onslaught that George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic fired off for two hours straight. The building shook with bass; the costumes screamed just as loud. The hits came often and hard.

Amid the whole carousel of music and bodies, though, Clinton himself mostly held his mic to the side. He and the band played three Minnesota shows last year: once in a surprise set at Paisley Park, and twice at the State Fair. This latest stop comes on the heels of Clinton’s retirement announcement — P-Funk have no plans to resign, but Clinton will remove himself from the road come May 2019.

While the overall energy stayed loud and proud all night (save for a slower duet between background singers), Tuesday’s show at the Varsity felt like a slice of Clinton’s decrescendo. His grandkids and a dozen other players stormed the stage, unleashing hard rock riffs and rap verses. DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight, who has worked with Parliament-Funkadelic for four decades, took center stage for a wildly impressive, hyper-overdriven solo. Aside from a few screams, whistles, and yells into the mic, Clinton stuck to hyping other players (hands held to ears; righteous nods and “raise the roof” palms) and approximating newfangled dance moves (yes, George Clinton dabbed. Yes, George Clinton twerked).

The set began in medias res, diving right into a funk-jam version of Parliament’s “Up For The Downstroke.” They’d return to that song over an hour later, after whirling through songs such as “(Not Just) Knee Deep” by Funkadelic and fantastic new Parliament song “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me.” During “Flashlight,” dancer Carlos McMurray appeared as Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk, the long-nosed villain who just needs funk in his life.

Parliament and Funkadelic have supplied countless samples to hip-hop, so it felt right to hear the band put their own spin on rap music and send it right back. The younger generation of band members took care of that — in fact, thanks to all the Bulls hats and swagger on stage, the vibe sometimes felt more like a Chicago rap show than old-school funk fest. At least until your eyes land on the nearly 77-year-old seated behind the rappers, nodding along. The crowd cheered while Kendrick Lamar gave the intro to “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard (We Ain’t Neva Gonna Stop Remix)” over the speakers.

It was good to see the legendary George Clinton perform for such an eager crowd, but the show’s real rocket fuel was the band behind him. A melange of squawking horns, scorching guitars, and slap bass sang for the crowd, handled by P-Funk veterans and newer faces alike. Former Parliament-Funkadelic members Eddie Hazel and Bernie Worrell may have moved on from this world, but they left some steamy riffs for young players to pick up.

Alex Rossi and his band opened the show with an hour of rock-solid funk — not that I’d expect anything less from the Bunker’s vets (they’ve performed at the North Loop bar in residency, and they’re due back on July 27). Rossi and the crew — including Nooky Jones keyboardist Kevin Gastonguay and bassist Sonny T., who made his name playing with noted P-Funk disciple Prince in the New Power Generation — mixed together originals and covers, adding dashes of technical dazzle in their slew of solos. Borrowing an expression from a Grand Funk Railroad tune they covered: It takes some kind of wonderful band to play an hour-long opening set and hold the crowd’s attention.

More photos by Nate Ryan: