Back when P-Funk was collecting tour support from the three or four different labels that released their various projects, George Clinton would begin his shows by stepping out of the “Mothership,” an alien presence sent here to funk us up. Some 25 years later, the metaphor still holds. No longer able to afford the stadium-sized production, Clinton has created his own free-floating, organic universe — a combination tent revival, carnival and commune, where Sun Ra and his Arkestra play James Brown tunes watched over by Jerry Garcia’s benignly self-indulgent spirit. Diapered guitarist Garry Shider, a zoot suited “Sir Nose” (P-Funk’s Hamburglar-like villain), a dog (or dawg, Clinton’s mascot) and a rotund singer in purple ermine and a crown float around the stage, and handwritten signs exhort the crowd to cheer, hiss or just dance.
Clinton’s songs — chanted protestations of the band’s innate funkiness, really — are basically frames for various solos. “(Not Just) Knee Deep” gives guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McNight lots of space for multiple solos; “Flashlight” allows the three-man horn section a chance to blow. Musicians walk on and off the stage at will while the music plays; a song can start with two singers and end up, some 15 minutes later, with more than a dozen.
It’s a strategy tailor-made for inconsistency, and the marathon (more than three hours) concert did have its share of longeurs. Just as your patience is about ready to give out, the band hits on something to snap you right back to attention. Rhythmically supple, P-Funk is also absorbent, able to assimilate whatever style it chooses. Violinist Lili Haydn sat in, with guitarist Eric McFadden on mandolin; they added an unexpected and jaw dropping country flavor.