The King and I: George's special gift for front-row fans.
By Bill Forman
FUNK GETS STRONGER The conversation back by the bar last Tuesday night sounded like something out of a messed up Depends commercial.
"That's not George singing."
"Yeah, that's him."
"Are you sure--the guy wearing the diapers?"
"Yeah, that's George--he got old."
"I know he's old--I've seen him 30 times. But he's wearing diapers. George never wears the diapers."
True enough: The diapers were worn by George's longtime sidekick Garry 'Starchild' Shider. But only moments later, George Clinton--he of the rainbow dreads and no diapers--took center stage at the Catalyst, where his Parliament-Funkadelic band would hold court for the next three hours.
The show was essentially divided into three parts: a two-hour, nonstop marathon set with dozens of musicians rotating through near half a century of P-Funk history, from Funkadelic's classic One Nation Under a Groove to last year's Sexy Side of You. This was followed by a "chill-out" session for which Clinton left the stage while a skeleton crew performed a half-hour version of the ever-popular Maggot Brain. Then it was all hands on deck for a featuring classic hits, roller-skate pirouetting and free pictures of George with King Poo Poo.
Much of what happens onstage during a P-Funk show is fairly inexplicable, both in terms of the music--you never know when the ever-changing lineup is going to slip into an alien groove that surprises even them--as well as the Clinton cosmology and theatrics: Who exactly is King Poo Poo and why are fans grabbing for cheap Xeroxed pictures of him? And how is it that the character Sir Nose D'Void of Funk is constantly being transformed from the paragon of uptightness to an onstage Lothario whose undulations would be enough to embarrass even Bill Hicks' Goatboy character? We may never know the answer to these questions, but that won't stop us from coming back to bask in their brilliance. (Now if he'd only get back together with Junie Morrison...)
CATCH HIS DRIFT While Clinton is the godfather of funk, Scott Walker rules the realm of melancholy, angst and ennui. Witness The Drift, the first album in a decade from the long-ago-leader of the Walker Brothers, on which he makes up for lost time by releasing what's arguably the strangest, most challenging and downright chilling album of the new century. Jesse, which he describes as his 9/11 song, opens with an ominous orchestral soundscape punctuated by Walker whispering "pow" in one speaker and then the other (an eerily understated evocation of airplanes crashing into twin towers), before moving into a late-night monologue in which Elvis mourns the loss of his stillborn twin. Clara is considerably more accessible, despite its 12-minute length and lyrics like "This is not a cornhusk doll/ Dipped in blood in the moonlight/ Like what happened in America." The album is on the 4AD label, appropriate enough for a record that combines motorik-style percussion (including one track on which a musician hits a large slab of meat) with vocal lines that are evocative of 19th-century art song. After listening to The Drift more than half a dozen times, I fully expect it will take dozens more to work out what Walker is on about. The weird thing is: I'm looking forward to it.
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