San Francisco gets funked up: George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic land the mothership at Stern Grove Festival

George Clinton/Courtesy

San Francisco’s Pride Parade on June 26 pumped the air with a radiant love that rolled over the Bay like a freight train and extended its impassioned reach to Glen Park’s Stern Grove, where it melded effortlessly with the raw power of the funk.

Sunday marked the second concert of the 79th season of free concerts at Sigmund Stern Grove. George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic headlined, with the funky hip-hop/reggae 10-piece Bayonics’ opening, ushering in the let-loose-get-down goodness promised with every summer solstice.

It was an usual day for the Grove’s trees — humans shuffled in by the hundreds, taking up any open space, breathing fresh oxygen straight from the source and forcing critters to get funked up in the brush above. (Mostly on soundwaves but a little bit on fumes from below, as well.) Whatever it was funking people up, the wavelength was ubiquitous. From foot-tapping to frenzied gyrating to other-dimensional undulating, all shades of P-Funk delight were expressed.

George Clinton, who has been on the obscene scene of all things funk and soul since the ‘50s, might as well have been shot through a cannon to start the show off. Rather than being impediments, the things that normally faze — age, heat, touring, the soul-suck of the music industry — seemed to fuel Clinton’s contagious partying. P-Funk’s funky facade is an impenetrable fortress of authoritative cool, making the energy transference a one-way dictum upon the tree-dwelling masses: tune in, drop out and get funked up.

The group’s extensive history, living through the conception of myriad genres and their fusion cousins, allows them to build on and invoke an eclectic repertoire, from the 1982 Snoop-inspiring “Atomic Dog” (“bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yeah”) to Sunday’s high-distortion cover of Lil Jon’s “Get Low,” whose heaping fistfuls of repetitive yawps are drawn directly from P-Funk’s well of madness. Clinton’s funkadelic Midas touch did to these songs, and the whole hip-hop songbook, what the first mammal did to its descendants: gave them soul.

As the collective consciousness of the audience waded through P-Funk’s delicious absurdities, we traded our agency and volition for a severe case of dance fever, as the classic “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” dictated. If San Francisco had a get-down-boogie quota to fill for the year, we lovely freaks filled it before the refrain: “We’re gonna turn this mother out.” Those words were just a practice in redundancy; the mother was clearly turned out, turned back in for air and then turned out again.

The band also played such evocative crowd favorites as “Flash Light” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” arousing epiphanies, “Oh! This is by Parliament?!” and “I know this song from ‘Good Burger!,’” respectively. Between the tie-dyed toddlers and dreadlocked centenarians, there was something for everyone to groove on.

In the wake of Bernie Worrell’s corporeal death — P-Funk keyboardist and veteran groove master — June 24, one might be wary of the other players’ health. If anyone at the concert arrived with any fears or suspicions, they were instantly quashed, demolished and pulverized upon P-Funk’s “damn”-ridden thunderstorm of sonic righteousness.

Earth is the lesser, for Worrell has passed to the Great Beyond. But it is also the stronger, for his death didn’t take away a morsel of musicianship from his funky family. A great musician died, but as the proud masses would attest, P-Funk lives on.

Contact Jacob Dickerman at [email protected].