The Agora Ballroom, Cleveland, OH
October 19, 1999
Almost 2000 people packed into the legendary Agora Ballroom on a cold Tuesday night to witness what was falsely billed as “the reunion of Parliament-Funkadelic”.
The last time the All-Stars played the Cleveland area I was 45 minutes late for the show, so this night I showed up a half hour before the billed 8pm showtime.
There was already a line leading through the lobby waiting to get into the Ballroom, so I went over to the merchandise stand and checked out the goods. There was a nice selection of T-Shirts, hats, CD’s, stickers, and other stuff, and the guy running the stand let me drop a few WFNK.com business cards for the shoppers to pick up so it was all good.
I was hit with a nasty head cold the day before so I planned on laying low this evening. Promo out of the way it was showtime.
At 8:20 they opened the doors to the Ballroom and people streamed in for a close spot in the pit or a good seat. By 8:35 the place was full and ready to go – there was a nice mix of P-Funk side-projects and rarities playing and the crowd was bumping along, chanting when they could and eagerly awaiting the funk.
This show was sponsored by the local R&B station (which of course hasn’t played much P-Funk in 20 years) so the crowd was blacker than last time I saw the P in town.
After an hour of waiting and enjoying the playlist the crowd started to grow restless.
At 9:35 Lige Curry and Blackbyrd McKnight walked out and picked up their guitars. A young vocalist also came out and spoke into the mic with a low GC-like voice. He was never introduced but he played a huge part in the show, adding the original GC spoken word parts to every thing he could. I have a few guesses as to who he is, but someone please ID him for me. (Paul Hill? Steven Boyd?)
The band started toying with “P-Funk” with the vocalist getting the crowd to chant “Flowin the Funk”. The P-Funk horns then came out one at a time – Greg Thomas, Benny Cowan, and Scott Taylor, and took amazing horn solos.
They finally went into “P-Funk” after about 15 minutes of soloing, and then segued into “Bop Gun”!
I’ve never heard them play this live and it was cool – the crowd was on the 1 with every vocal line. The only downside was that it was a little disorienting in that they had the three guitars (Blackbyrd, Gary, and Mike “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton) playing the Bernie keyboard parts from the original.
They teased “Lunchmeatphopia” then glided into “Gamin On Ya”. The crowd erupted, again singing along with Gary. It became apparent at this point though that Lige’s bass mix was way too muddy and his tone this night was not like the classic Parliament stuff.
P-Nut was feelin the funk as the main back-up vocalist. I always get a kick out of how people mistake him for George when he walks out on stage. I guess there just aren’t that many grey-bearded black rock stars around!
Belita then made her way out and they broke into a great version of “Girl is Bad” – I think it’s the refrain from “Undisco Kidd”. They played with it all over the place and it was one of the highlights of the show.
The drummer (a light skinned guy with braids, also unidentified) started “Cosmic Slop” with Lige taking the “Space People” vocal and Gary and P-Nut taking the rest of the vocals.
As the song built to it’s dramatic finale the crowd was won over completely and George came walking out. He had a one piece shroud that at first looked to be made out of the american flag. It was mainly red white and blue but I couldn’t make out the significance of the pattern.
“Cosmic Slop” came to a rousing conclusion and they slammed right into the chorus of “I Am The Slime” by Frank Zappa, with Gary and George screaming the vocals. This finally ended and the crowd lights came on.
It was a glorious moment – 2000 screaming funkateers and George grinning like the proudest grandfather around.
Mike Hampton now launched into “Standing on the Verge” and this track became the background for a 25 minute long jam through several tracks: “Pump it Up” with a killer solo from Kidd Funkadelic; “All Sons of Bitches”; and “If Anybody Gets Funked Up” over the riff from “Standing on the Verge”.
George got the crowd chanting the chorus to that then he and P-Nut began singing the chorus to “Good To Your Earhole”. The band mildly played with the chords to Earhole and then George and P-Nut tore into the verses: “Smashing your brain like silly putty…”.
This is one of my favorite songs and I’ve been waiting a long time to hear it so this was a highlight for me.
Blackbyrd then pulled out a nasty little solo and the montage came to a close.
George was more lively than I’ve seen him in the past and was really involved with what was going on with the crowd and the band. It seems some nights he spends more time worrying about one or the other but this night he had his role down perfect.
He led the band into “Give Up the Funk” and the crowd sang along. As GC kept telling the band to quiet down the crowd managed to sing all three parts independently! It was one of those special moments that can’t be rehearsed.
At this point my headcold started to get the best of me and I started getting a little tired so I went up into the balcony to find a comfortable seat and relax. The band did a decent version of “Night of the Thumpasaurus Peoples” (again, I’ve never heard this played by the All-Stars) but they sorely missed something aproaching Bernie’s playing on this track. I could barely make out the keyboards, although Clip and the afforementioned talking guy were both playing.
Shonda came out next and the show started to slow down. Nothing against Shonda who I love – her rap “Sumptin Stank and I Want Some” was on the one and Treylewd helped her out with some silliness. Blackbyrd also took a little-too long solo at the end of the Shonda song. George came back out to rap “Booty” with Treylewd and I actually missed Louie!
Treylewd picked up a guitar during Booty and was strummin along, but based on the way he held the thing I was sure he couldn’t play. But then he took the main mike and screwed around with some jazz chord progressions and rapped “Billy Boy” over top, a funny funky nursery rhyme about Bill Clinton getting head in the White House.
Suprisingly, they slipped into “Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication”, but again the song suffered without Bernie (or at least a competent Bernie impersonation). This built into another guitar solo by Blackbyrd, which led us into the guitar solo portion of the show.
Everyone left the stage except for a new drummer (unidentified), Lige on bass, Clip on keys, and Blackbyrd off to the side. George walked to center stage and began the “Maggot Brain” intro, but then went into the “US Custom Coast Guard Dope Dog” rap. I’ve never heard so many people recite the rap with him. I’m a huge P-Funk fan and have the Dope Dogs record but I was surprised how many people knew every word to his rap.
George then introduced the band as Funkadelic and Scott Taylor came out with a flute to do a little “Maggot Brain”. Finally Kidd Funkadelic came out to do his thing on “Maggot Brain”. His sound was extremely clear and he was very loud. I don’t know if it was my cold or my old age (;-)), but my ears started to hurt.
As “Maggot Brain” wound down Kidd left the stage and Lige and Blackbyrd moved into “Dog Star”. At this point the excessive volume of the show became apparent and the overly long guitar solo by Blackbyrd started to run off the crowd.
Now I’m no wimp – I grew up listening to heavy metal and have had my share of pain-inducing stereo systems in my life, plus being a DJ I feel I am qualified to have an opinion on this – this portion of the show was TOO LOUD. The 35 minutes of guitar solos lacked finesse and style (except for the first 3 minutes of “Maggot Brain”) and I don’t understand how and why this segment remains in the show. I expect such things from Kidd Funkadelic as he’s made it quite apparent in interviews that he enjoys thrashing wailing guitar, but I always feel a little disapointed when Blackbyrd stands up there and gives us 20 minutes of wailing screeching guitar. They both claim Jimi Hendrix was a huge influence on them but Jimi Hendrix (or Eddie Hazel) would never be caught wailing over the same riff for 35 minutes. And how many times can you run up and down the fretboard? I bet even Ernie Isley would have blushed from these solos.
Okay, off my soapbox. Needless to say I wasn’t very impressed with the guitar-god portion of the show. I felt like I was at a bad 80’s hair band concert.
I headed for the lobby and ran into a friend of mine who happens to be a bad-ass guitarist for a band you’ve heard mentioned plenty on WFNK.com (to rename nameless for this review), and even he agreed that the screeching guitar was overkill on the vibe.
Luckily, the band recovered and brought the crowd back out of their seats with a spirited if sloppy version of “One Nation Under A Groove”. This led into “Flashlight” – a muddy mess.
If you wanna really here the mid-70’s dance stuff done well you are gonna have to catch a WOO Warriors show. “Knee Deep” was better than I had heard it before but the sound was so loud and distorted at this point that the crowd was going on memory. Good thing they kept the arrangement equal to the record or people would have been lost.
I noticed some people started pulling ladies from the audience for what I guessed would be the “Atomic Dog” part of the show, but first they went into “Sentimental Journey” and Belita, who had been MIA for 2 hours came out and ripped it up. I’ve watched this become one of the better songs of the set over the last 4 years.
They moved into “Atomic Dog” and the women came out shakin their thangs to the beat. I have to admit I didn’t hear much of the song as I was busy watching the hysterics on stage – one skinny asian girl couldn’t get her ass out of GC’s crotch, and she kept spankin him so he spanked her back.
Then SirNose (also missing most of the show) started grinding up on a finely dressed young black woman. The funny thing was this same girl was sitting over by where I was dancing at the beginning of the show and didn’t look to be having any fun. Men kept bouncing up to her trying to get her to dance but she wouldn’t have it.
There she was 3 hours later on stage practically making babies with her clothes on with SirNose. She had a long slitted dress that Sir Nose and George started inching up as they grinded on her. I also saw a few of my lady friends up there shaking things I didn’t know they had, so it was entertaining and educational!
As the women got led off stage Miss April Showers, formerly vocalist with Bootsy’s Rubber Band, was spotted singing and dancing with Gary and then got the main mike with GC. She turned it out for a few moments as the band flowed into the “Free Your Mind” rif.
Again, the spken word parts made it special and the keyboards popped out of nowhere and made themselves heard. I figured that was about it and sure enough the houselights came up and people started making their way to the exits. The band kept playing though, going into “Radio Friendly DJ’s”.
The only people left with enough energy to keep dancing after 4.5 hours were the few raver kids around (gee, I wonder why?) and they got their groove on as George rapped about the radio’s treatment of P-Funk.
I got to hang with April for a bit after she came off stage and we started making our way to the doors. I was telling her about one time at a show a few years back when the band didn’t want to leave the stage so they tried to play “Red Hot Mama” as the roadies were pulling the plugs. I thought it was an awesome moment.
As I was telling her about it the scene repeated itself exactly on stage! So chalk one up to fake spontaneity.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this show. The crowd was great, the setlist had one or two suprises, the P-Funk horns turned it out, and George was at the top of his game. But the false billing was very annoying, the playing was lacksadaisical, the set is very close to the one they’ve been playing for 5 years, Skeet and Billy Bass are sorely missed, the keyboard mix sucked, and they have to do something about that 35 minutes of too-loud guitar.
I am now convinced more than ever than the P-Funk All-Stars, the WOO Warriors and Original P together on one stage and playing with each other would be the only true P-fix I could get.