Whomever is in the room with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, of course!
On Wednesday, 11 February, that was the standing room only crowd at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, Georgia. I showed up at the venue at 6:30 with my confirmation e-mail for credentials and headed for the end of the line. Doors were to open at 7:00 and the line was already curved around the building and down the side alley to the back of the building. From the chatter in the line, I knew it would be a great crowd. From the thump of the bass that escaped the back door when security peeked out to survey the line, I knew it would be a spectacular show.
Sound check was running a little behind, but every ten minutes or so one of the security team took a walk down the line to let us all know that doors would be opening soon. They didn’t have to do that, but it was a really nice thing to do and it kept people happy because they knew what was going on.
This show sold out a week or so before the show date, and there were more than a few people out before the show hoping that one of the people in line might have even just one extra ticket for sale. No such luck, however, but the requests got more and more interesting as we got closer to show-time. By the time the doors opened to let us in out of the cold, the line was snaking around the building and down the alley for about four blocks. Not too shabby at all!
If you haven’t ever been to the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, you should definitely give it a go. It’s located on Euclid Avenue in the Little Five Points neighborhood, which is an eclectic, artsy neighborhood loaded up with little shops, restaurants, clubs, and dive bars. The Variety was originally a World War II era movie theater and has some very interesting art deco features. There is a great balcony with limited seating and the downstairs front of house has limited seating at the back center and sides of the theater. Stage front is open area for general admission standing crowds and dancing. There are two concession areas in the venue which offer a variety of beverages and snacks, including domestic and import beers and wine.
There wasn’t a long wait after getting inside the venue before the show started. I was able to get right up against the stage just slightly off the center mic and what a sweet spot it was. As it turns out, I was right at the feet of Mr. George Clinton himself. I’d heard stories of what a P-Funk show was like, but this was my first personal experience, and I was not disappointed. It’s very obvious from the moment the entourage takes the stage that everyone in the group is fulfilling the vision of a musical mastermind.
While George Clinton may not get all the credit he deserves for his role in shaping the musical genre we know today as funk, his innovative approach to the music, the show, and living life have certainly made him unforgettable. At 73, one might expect the show to be a little more laid back than it was in the 70’s, but anyone making that assumption would be terribly wrong. The show was raucous, flamboyant, and pushed more than one or two limits of social convention. It was awesome to see that several members of the PFunk crew were able to keep their possible social anxieties, lack of appetite, and glaucoma at bay – by any means necessary.
George was in fine form and dressed to the nines when he hit the stage, singing and dancing like there was no tomorrow. He did occasionally need a little break from all that, but when that happened, he orchestrated smooth changes for other performers to take center stage and keep the party moving along. And party we did – each and every of us, gathered together as one, in the name of the groove, and we were on a direct course to rip off the roof and then kick it in the ditch.
After the show, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down for a few minutes with Parliament Funkadelic bassist, Lige Curry. During the show, Lige wasn’t one of the performers called to center stage, but there wasn’t a person in the house whose butt wasn’t shaking to the groove he was laying down. Here’s some of the awesomeness from that chat.
YOFP: How old were you when you started playing bass?
LC: I was pretty young, probably 12 or so. I grew up in a house filled with music and started playing gospel. I got some inspiration from television and tried to play what I heard there. We played a lot of blues and pop music, but church was very important in our family and we played there a lot.
YOFP: Do you have any formal musical training?
LC: Oh yeah. I went to Central State University and majored in music. Upright bass. I didn’t graduate, but I did study there for a couple of years.
YOFP: What’s your favorite style of music to play?
LC: Probably a combination of jazz and funk and rock. I’m a huge rock guy. Back in Cleveland, I was a big rock guy playing Rush and Band of Gypsies, but I got a shot with George and that was a big blessing in my life.
YOFP: What’s the most important thing any bassist should know?
LC: How to listen to the other players in the band and as a bassist how to put in three to four hours a day just reading. Sight reading notation. It doesn’t hurt to do the Circle of Fifths. If you don’t know the fundamentals, you won’t go anywhere. I mean, I know that people have lives, and sometimes there’s things like work and the kids that make it hard, but you just need to do the practice, as much as you can every day.
YOFP: What’s your guilty pleasure?
LC: Eating cookies in the middle of the night. The bed gets full of crumbs. Chocolate chip, of course. Chewy Chips Ahoy.
YOFP: You never left your hidey hole behind the stacks tonight. Are you camera shy? Or just keeping a secret?
LC: George features a lot of stuff. It’s his show. And it’s about being a part of the band. We just do what we need to do. I wasn’t called on tonight to feature, so I just stayed where I needed to stay and did my job as part of the band.
YOFP: You were laying down some serious funk tonight. Sick tone, dude. What’s part of the secret to that sound that you’re willing to share?
LC: It’s no secret. It’s a Music Man bass. I just got an endorsement with them. And it has a Bartolini pre-amp in it. I have an endorsement from them, too. That bass has such a good sound all by itself. I had to think long and hard before I made changes to it, but I’m glad I did. That pre-amp just gives it that much more sound.
YOFP: Would you consider yourself a gear whore?
LC: Oh yeah!!!! But I like what I like and I don’t like to make too many changes to what works.
YOFP: Who’s YOUR bass hero?
LC: Does it have to be just one? Let’s see. Billy “Bass” Nelson. Larry Graham. Jaco. Louis Johnson – he just took all that to another level. Oh, and on upright, Ray Brown.
If you’ve got the chance to see George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic when they come through your town, I highly advise it. Don’t think about it. Just. DO IT!! And, if you’re in Atlanta, go check out a show at the Variety Playhouse in L5P. Brad and his team do a great job there. Last, but not least, a huge thank you to Lige Curry for giving me ten minutes after a slammin’ show and loading out to talk before getting on the road for the next show. The members over at Basstalk 247 and I appreciate your willingness to share a little peek into your world.