If anyone invented America, it might be George Clinton. From his doowop roots to the late-Sixties social excoriation of The United States of America Eats Its Young, on to the funk grooves and stadium grandeur of Mothership Connection, and his defining plea against the musical apartheid of his country in the Sixties, "Why Can't a Funk Band Play Rock Music?", Clinton at his peak was the provocative joker in America's musical pack. Extending James Brown's initial funk mantra into improvisatory overload, he continues to be sampled wholesale by the cream of Nineties hip-hop, till it sometimes seems he may consume the genre that supplanted him from within. In his Seventies attempt to sign contracts with as many companies as possible, he is the template for the Wu-Tang Clan's current conquest of the music industry. In his ignoring of racial lines in the music he played, and the soul he imbued it with, he was a pioneer for Prince. Which is all very well. But tonight, he's a bit of a mess.
When he takes the stage, Clinton's looks don't disappoint. A tower of golden hair crowns his head, and when he peers from under his shades at the crowd, who range in age from teenagers to people in their forties, the affection is mutual. He cups his hand to his ear to milk our responses, flaps his arms like he's about to take off, even practises his funky golf- swing. Portly and playful, he is funk's George Foreman. His band, too, all 16 of them, are appealingly motley: guitarist Garry Shider wears only a nappy. But when they play, charisma can't hide their faults. They've simply been on the road too long; Brixton is one more night on a trip no one any longer knows the point of.
The nadir is a half-hour of distended guitar solos, while Clinton rests somewhere in the wings. As the show stretches past the three-hour mark, it begins to seem more like punishment than value. The only people who are happy are the part of the crowd dancing to the band's unvarying beat, as if they're at some prehistoric club where it takes 17 musicians to create the night's sounds. Only one moment captures why Clinton is revered. When he plays his Seventies hit "Flashlight", the improvisations actually catch hold of something; as his horn section sway above the speaker stacks and his guitarists serenade each other, you can hear fragments of doowop harmony, then scat vocals, in a long, languorous song that takes from everything in Clinton's past. He leaves to the sharp soul stabs of trumpets. It's a reminder, too late to help him, of the discipline that even the funkiest father figures need.Reuse content