Funk fans take note: Shout Factory has reissued a funk blast courtesy of George Clinton's P-Funk mob. The Mothership Connection Live 1976 delivers 80 minutes of irresistible grooves and outlandish costumes. It's a great opportunity to witness Parliament Funkadelic in all their mid-'70s glory. One great jam after another is cranked out by the large collective of musicians, creating a free-flowing funk stew that Clinton simmers to perfection. By the time they kick into their best known hit, "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Of The Sucker)," I think anyone would be hard pressed to sit still.
This particular concert was taped on Halloween night, 1976, at the Houston Summit. Keep in mind this was long before high-definition digital video. The camera work is downright primitive by today's standards. In fact, some songs begin with a minute or so of total darkness before enough light is available for the performers to be seen. The cameras, however immobile, do focus on the stage throughout. There isn't a single audience shot during the entire program. While I appreciate this type of basic presentation, it should be noted that some of the musicians are never even shown. We don't see Cordell "Boogie" Mosson on bass, nor drummer Jerome Brailey. But don't let that be too much of a deterrent, the video footage is highly watchable and the audio packs a decent punch considering its age.
By 1976, Parliament Funkadelic was nearing its peak in popularity. While the watered-down funk offshoot known as disco continued to gain momentum, Clinton and his ensemble continued to keep the funk pure and raw. So many fantastic musicians contributed, including former James Brown alumni Fred Wesley (trombone) and Maceo Parker (alto saxophone). Parker, arguably the funkiest sax player in history, is spotlighted nicely several times. Rhythm guitarist Garry Shider is excellent, also adding dynamite vocals to the mix. Shider makes quite a visual impression as well. Dressed in little more than a diaper, he sucks on a pacifier when not singing.
It's nearly impossible to discuss this performance without commenting on the crazy costumes. Definitely a time-capsule piece, the group is decked out in some garish clothing. Clinton himself will be nearly unrecognizable to younger viewers who only know him as the overweight, rainbow-haired, slow-moving figure he has been for many years now. Late in the show, when Clinton emerges from the Mothership dressed as Dr. Funkenstein, he brings to mind Snoop Dogg in appearance; tall, lean, and pimped-out. Speaking of the arrival of the Mothership, it does fly in and make spectacular landing – though I suspect it looked more impressive to the live audience in the arena.
As the show ramps up to it's final numbers, Clinton calls for his opening acts to join him onstage. Of course, "opening act" is nearly an insult to Bootsy's Rubber Band and Sly and the Family Stone. It's too bad their sets weren't captured on tape and included on the DVD as well. With so many musicians onstage for the encore, the proceedings become a barely controlled chaos. It's a great climatic finish for a show P-Funk fans won't want to miss. There are no special features on the DVD, but there are excellent (though fairly brief) liner notes by Rickey Vincent. Vincent authored a truly outstanding book, Funk: The Music, The People, And the Rhythm Of the One, which is highly recommended for anyone yearning to know the history of the genre. The Mothership Connection Live 1976 is essential viewing. The closing number is "Funkin' For Fun," and it's an apt description of the entire experience.