At a sold-out Ardmore Music Hall Saturday night, the spirit of P-Funk was alive and well as George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic kept a packed house moving for a nearly three-hour set that didn't come to a close until nearly 1 a.m.
Songs blended into each other amid the calculated jam-session feel that the band has always had. A stomping, rousing opener joined crowd and stage, with the repeated stirring intonation by Clinton - backed at this point by five vocalists - to "Hold My Hand," turning the room into a congregation. While the dance-party vibe duly matched Parliament's mission of transcendence through the music-aided shedding of inhibitions, Parliament Funkadelic's place in the pantheon of rock music was on full display as well.
As much as there was the filter pedal-inspired enjambment of bass and guitar chords with cymbal work from the drummer and organ sounds from the keyboard - as well as trumpet and saxophone rounding out thumping, rolling drums - for the funk sound that's an indelible part of the American music soundscape, some of the best moments came about when guitarists Ricky Rouse and DeWayne "BlackByrd" McKnight, longtime Parliament Funkadelic members and clear musical legends, built a wall of sound while coming together on tracks, as opposed to the guitar solos that came in about three-quarters through several songs.
On "Maggot Brain", McKnight stepped into the spotlight to outdo Carlos Santana, while Rouse supported with contemplative rising and descending notes that recalled "Stairway to Heaven" before beautiful, timeless piano came into the background to make the moment even more spacy and surreal.
That was after backup singers Patavian Lewis and Tonysha Nelson, a.k.a. Kandy Apple Redd, took to the forefront to deliver a soulful rendition of the Bootsy Collins song "Vanish in Our Sleep." Besides the stunning range and chemistry on display between the two vocalists - Clinton's granddaughters - the lyrics, "If I could take you away . . . If we could fly away to another space and time," were a nice setup to the transcendent experience that is "Maggot Brain," where George's terse vocals were as timeless and powerful as ever.
As the for the next generation in P-Funk, backup singer Brandi Scott also had her chance to shine with a sultry track, "Meow Meow," where her strong stage presence overcame the fact that her vocals weren't high enough at the start - a problem with the sound that had affected earlier songs and that was thankfully corrected. And of course, there was Garrett Shider, son of the late Garry Shider, who held his own with both McKnight and Clinton on guitar and vocals respectively.
Amid all this, Clinton was of course the spiritual ringleader, a warm patriarch rousing us every time he poured his soul into the microphone but happy to let both longtime and new bandmates step into the limelight - but that's what Parliament Funkadelic has always been about. It's a family. And nowhere was that more evident than in the vibrant takes on classics "One Nation Under a Groove" and "Undisco Kidd".