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Funk king casts fun spell on Saltair

GEORGE CLINTON in concert; Saltair, Saturday, March 3; one performance only.

Before the turn of the century, the cliched way to celebrate was to "party like it's 1999." Saturday at Saltair — and for as long as he is still playing music — the grandfather of funk wanted to party like it was 1979. And he did.

While Saturday's performance was indeed musical, it was, in spirit, closer to a party than what the modern usage of the word "concert" connotes. There were the typical banks of overhead lighting, walls of amplifiers, drums, guitars, keyboards and performers, but the party atmosphere still managed to outshine the concert-feel of the event.

It started onstage, where Clinton's Parliament Funkadelic began the program with relatively slow, easygoing, grinding rhythms. Surprisingly, Clinton wasn't even on stage when the festivities kicked off, and he didn't need to be, letting his capable musicians take care of things. With renditions of tunes, such as "Falling On The Funk," that were more than 10 minutes long, the band was in no hurry to work up the crowd, instead opting to keep the pace leisurely. It was often difficult to tell when one song ended and the next began. Occasionally, different singers would step forward to talk to the crowd, but the message was always the same: "Enjoy the party, funk with us."

The stage colors were muted in the night's early stages, keeping with the relaxed atmosphere. With a guitarist in a diaper and sneakers and other musicians in an eclectic blend of dress styles, there was plenty to see on the stage, but none of the performance seemed choreographed or planned. It looked instead as if those onstage were there for the same reason the audience was, to simply enjoy the live-music experience. With each new number, a singer or a dancer or a guitarist would join the party. By the middle of the set, a horn trio joined the celebration, picking up the energy level a few notches in songs such as "The Girl Is Bad."

Finally Clinton himself sauntered into the festivities. Dressed in a wizard's robe, covered with star clusters and galaxies, along with a bizarre mockery of an Arm & Hammer baking soda box logo, Clinton walked wordless to the lip of the stage, to raucous cheers from the half-capacity crowd; he raised his arms like a beloved religious or political leader, bringing the house down before he even sang a word. He let his presence and his grand gestures speak louder than his voice could have. In due time, he spoke and sang "funkdefying," directing his P-Funk group in its musical calisthenics.

The crowd onstage grew to about 20 at times and even included selected dancers from the audience. The party lasted from the 7 p.m. start until about 11:30.