(Above: George Clinton is an “Atomic Dog.”)
By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
For the third consecutive spring, George Clinton brought the Mothership Connection to Crossroads KC.
Unfortunately, Friday night’s two-and-a-half-hour set could never build momentum and was capsized by too many limp numbers. Although the repertoire hardly changed from previous years, the band’s setlist-free jams were a double-edged sword. Songs were either exciting or went nowhere.
Clinton’s P-Funk All-Stars are less a band than a troupe. At one point there were six guitarist stretched across the front of the stage. Everyone was in costume. There’s axeman with the rainbow-colored Afro, angels out of a Victoria’s Secrets ad, Diaper Man Gary Shider, another male guitarist in a wedding dress and veil, several backup singers in Mardi Gras masks and Sir Nose, the acrobatic agitator in a white fur coat.
In the middle of it all was Clinton himself, clad in a black jacket and pants, sporting his trademark Crayola-sponsored headpiece and a necklace that looked like it was borrowed from Flava Flav.
While the depth and diversity of the ensemble is a great strength –- musicians can cycle on and off stage leaving fresh fingers and never-ending jams -– it is also an Achilles heel. For a band so tight, the performances tend to sprawl. And while his democracy is to be commended, Clinton gives each of his performers often unnecessary time in the spotlight. I’d much rather have heard “Bop Gun” than watched Roller Girl dance and sing the next-to-closing number.
The night got off to a solid start with perennial opener “Funkentelechy” and the instrumental “Cosmic Slop.” The evening’s high point came early. The 15-minute version of “Flashlight” featured a pair of wicked horn solos and the band demonstrating why Clinton’s songs hold up so well over a generation later.
“Freak of the Week” initially seemed like a great follow-up, but despite incorporating parts of “Sentimental Journey” and a scat-vocal interlude, the song was stuck in a slow pace that never really got off the ground.
This set the pattern. The dynamic “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” was part of an uber-medley with “Up For the Down Stroke” a sax solo and a tribute to James Brown. It was sandwiched by an unusually mellow “One Nation Under A Groove” and the turgid “Bounce 2 This,” which was little more than a bassline and repetition of its title.
At the start of the night, the two-thirds-full lawn was ready to dance and get down, but the crowd started thinning during “Maggot Brain,” the instrumental tour de force that appeared an hour into the set. By the end of “Bounce 2 This” the lawn was empty past the sound tent, save a few pockets of dedicated dancers.
The night ended on a high note with “Atomic Dog,” but by then it was too late. Too many stops and starts had killed the night’s groove. Fortunately, everyone will likely be back next spring to redeem themselves.