Not that long ago I saw Nile Rodgers perform to this venue in a similarly un-sold-out state, just before Daft Punk and numerous other youthful collaborations made his band Chic cool again. George Clinton, 73 last week, looks next for a reappraisal, with a memoir on the way as well as work with hip DJs Soul Clap and Hackney’s Brit-winning dance collective Rudimental.
The sound Clinton called P-funk after his intermingling bands Parliament and Funkadelic has never really been in or out of fashion, existing on another plane altogether where 10-minute space-themed psychedelic soul is the norm and the weird guy in the rainbow wig is to be followed, not avoided.
He seemed to do well out of hip hop, sampled non-stop and inspiring Dr Dre’s G-funk sound, although he has had trouble with copyright payments.
He could probably do with the money now, for a show like this can’t be cheap to put on. He may no longer bring out his giant Mothership prop (now in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, no less) but he did have upwards of 20 people on stage, most of whom got a turn to step to the forefront of a fantastically chaotic late night set.
Sporting a baggy pimp suit and a sharp hat, he often didn’t seem to be doing that much, but was clearly the boss. During Mothership Connection (Star Child), he tapped his guitarist on the shoulder to prompt an epic solo and then, with his back turned, appeared to be telling the drummer which cymbals to hit.
But if he was your boss, he probably wouldn’t mind you sending personal emails or wearing shorts to work. The atmosphere was casual, with the band starting straight from the set-up without fanfare.
One man, whose job seemed to be to talk in an unbelievably deep voice sometimes, wandered on at the last second and lobbed a rucksack and some trainers under the keyboard. Another was on stage purely for handstand purposes.
The sound, though meandering, was crafted with breathtaking skill. Solos were plentiful, with horns preferable to the bass, and sweaty funk was available in abundance in this horribly hot venue.
Songs such as Up on the Down Stroke and (I Wanna) Testify were long but with such a crowd at work (augmented by fans at the end) there was no question of looking away from the stage.