Everything appears to be in order as New York octet Miss Velvet & The Blue Wolf file onto stage and break into their opening number. Being the support act of such a giant of the genre – not just here, but on the entire world tour – was always going to mean that their music had stylistic parallels to the world of funk and groove-oriented music. The twist in the tale, however, comes when the titular Miss Velvet steps up to the mic and opens her mouth. Although one might expect something soulful or sultry, you instead get a metal-bar squawk that’s closer to Sammy Hagar than Sam Cooke. It’s a shock to the system, and admittedly takes a moment to adjust to. Say what you will, but this stylistic clash is not one that this audience was expecting – but, rather than serve as a deterrent, it draws more punters in closer to the stage. The entire band perform with the confidence of a headliner, and even if the music doesn’t particularly do anything for you it was hard to deny their chutzpah and colourful approach to genre-hopping. Hey, it beats watching some carbon-copy go through the motions, right?
It’s clear from the amount of mic stands being set up that the spacious stage of the Enmore Theatre is quite possibly about to be the most crowded it’s ever been. Sure enough, a parade of characters – singers, guitarists, dancers, horns players and instrumentalists alike – fill the space to capacity as they await the arrival of their fearless leader. Sure enough, Parliament-Funkadelic are soon joined by the man of the hour: George Clinton, a sprightly 77 years old, who is tonight performing in Sydney for the last time ever as his imminent retirement looms. While it’s sad to see a legend of the game bowing out, he leaves behind a legacy of wild, weird innovation within black music and beyond – and, most importantly, he ain’t done yet. There’s a party going on, and Sydney has very much been invited to it.
Here’s something you don’t get told about being an audience member at a Parliament-Funkadelic show: It’s full-time work. Nearly everyone who begins the show on-stage gets at least one or two breaks, with the collective shifting depending on who is taking the lead and what type of song is being performed. As the group comes and goes, however, the audience remains steadfast – it’s the only true constant of the set, and thankfully the love and energy in the room never wanes even after an exhaustive 150 minutes and more than a few dips into ballad territory. Instead, we’re all on board for everything that the band offer up. That means every wailing guitar solo, every hand that’s waved like we just don’t care, every scatted call-and-response, every signature song getting the extensive jam treatment and every last possible chance to raise our horns in the air in salute to both Clinton and his remarkable travelling circus. So long, George, and thanks for all the funk.
Review – David James Young