Chicago Jam Scene: Galactic 4.10.10

I'm finally back! And not a moment too soon. Austin claims to have The Best Live Music Scene in the country but I couldn't disagree more. In fact, I thought it sucked really really bad. I couldn't wait to get back to Chicago, where the music scene is truly spectacular. And I really hit the ground running seeing as I had less than an hour between arriving in Chicago and heading to the first of 4 shows in 5 nights. Galactic was the first band on the docket and I was giddy with anticipation. I saw them at the Vic in February of 2009 and it was an awesome show... although a little bit too much hip-hop than I wanted for my first Galactic show. I had been checking out their 2010 setlists at and deduced that they were playing a much more funk-heavy show these days. Score!

Amy and I arrived to The Vic with an unexplored situation on our hands... I had been guestlisted and received a photo pass for this show! This is a first here at CJS and hopefully only the beginning of much, much more. I could hear the funk party start ripping as we were waiting in line for the tickets. We finally burst inside the venue (with a shocking lack of hassle from security) and stormed up front to stake out a spot. We settled in front of the stage right speakers to what must have been "Can I Be Your Main Squeeze?" and got in the groove immediately. Guest trombone killer/mic master Corey Henry was at the front of the stage throwing down the funk with Ben Ellman, the saxophone/harmonica man and energy leader of Galactic. Together they brought a dense & vibrant soul-funk vibe to the show. They ripped through what sounded like a classic, but was actually the first song from their new album Ya-Ka-May. It is called "Boe Money" and it is absolutely dripping with N'awlins energy.

The next song began with Corey Henry announcing that the legend himself, Cyril Neville, would be making an appearance. The crowd gave a respectfully wild applause and welcomed the green silk-clad crooner onto the stage. The first Cyril song was called "No More Okey Doke" and heavily featured Cyril's syrupy voice. His sharp, yet viscous howl was accompanied by some of those absolutely gut-rumbling & blood-pumping Funk keyboards. Richard Vogel tore up the keys while Stanton Moore was drumming with one hand and tambourine-ing with the other-- reinforcing the well-rounded & finely-honed sound of Galactic. The next song, "You Don't Know" began with Cyril behind the djembes, but ended with him at the front of the stage, mic-in-hand. This man has such a smooth & commanding stage presence, it is hard to take your eyes off of him... but even harder to take your ears away. His voice is auditory candy and embodies what I have always romanticized about New Orleans soul.

Not long after Cyril's run in the spotlight, the band brought out the horn section from one of the opening bands, T-Bone & The Breaks. As if there wasn't enough magical horn music bounding off the stage, they had to go throw more gas on the fire... and this song was blazing. It was right about then that I got the familiar itch to wonder around the venue a little bit to scope out the scene and generally act shady. But once I started milling around, I was hit in the face with the dumptruck that is security at the Vic Theater. This place continues to hire a security force that you might find at the border in El Paso or Brownsville-- they have this place on lockdown and give many patrons the boot with extreme prejudice. It was weird to see people getting hassled at this show at all-- this was one of the coolest & cleanest crowds I have seen in some time. Galactic really pulls an eclectic group of people in and most of them seem like they now how to get down in respectful way.

The security honestly didn't bother me all that much on this night, I guess getting in for free is the ultimate pair of rose-colored glasses. We ended up sitting on a bench in the balcony just as the expanded horn section was wrapping up their portion of the show. The show didn't lose any steam, however, as the next song "La Di Da Di" brought the fucking thunder. The guitarist, Jeff Raines, finally got his chance to step up and shredded my face all to pieces. This guy is like a rabid wolverine trapped in a cage of horns & keys. When the band finally opens the Jam Door, he charges out, frothing at the strings and ready to chew his own leg off to explode your brain. Due to my penchant for heavy & shreddy space guitar, this song was one of the highlights of the show. From the vantage point of the balcony, we had a great view of the stage set-up and I must say, it was one of the coolest I've ever seen at the Vic. The bold "Ya-Ka-May" above the stage was cool and there were these fire-shaped screens on the stage that were lit up with lights & images. It was a really tasteful display and added just enough visual flurry to augment the sonic mayhem piling into my ears.

Over the next few songs, the band kept the funk flowing freely. The classic "Ooh Naw Nay" had the crowd all atwitter and a few songs from the new album, "Wild Man" and "Bacchus", kept the show fresh & exciting... although with this show's energy & awesome crowd, they could have played some Kenny G and it would have been a good time. During this portion of the show, I really began to take note of the rhythm & flow of Stanton Moore. Long considered one of the finest drummers in the jam circuit, Moore really impressed me on this night with the deft control of the music he displayed on stage. His drumming style has a dense, tumbling quality about it and feels like a giant boulder bouncing down a hill. He seems to hit his drums very hard which lends a sharp & weighty vibe to his rhythm. Not many drummers seem to be in total control on stage, but you can tell Stanton is the man. He is an absolute powerhouse.

Cyril was back in charge with a song called "Gossip" that kept the jamfunk rolling, but thankfully brought back his violently tender vocal chops for us to enjoy. The song wrapped and Cyril got a thunderous applause. It seemed as if the show might be over but I could tell something awesome was about to happen. Ben seemed to wind-up like one of those little cars and dropped the plunger on a fast & furious "From The Corner To The Block". The lack of vocals in this song was A-OK by me as Ben whapped me up side the head with his sax, while Richard assualted me with his keyboards and bassist Robert Mercurio shook it all home with an extremely fuzzed-out bassline that made my entrails rumble with joy. Corey Henry looked like he might give us the rap, but instead lept into the crowd for a body surfing session. This ended the marathon, setbreak-less show and had my heart pounding, sweat rolling off my brow and a giant shit-munching grin slapped all over my face.

Once again, it felt for a brief moment like the show would be over. But the house lights never went on and the band began to funnel back on stage. A wicked bassline set the tempo and Ben said, "I love hearing this bassline because it's the entry music for the Houseman." The Houseman is another crooner and got the encore off the ground with an awesome rendition of "Something's Wrong With This Picture". The next song is one of my personal favorites as I still jam out to Ruckus on a weekly basis. "Bittersweet" was an excellent selection from this album, but in some ways actually felt tame compared with the barrage of funk from the rest of the show. I was hoping for some more Ruckus, possibly a "Never Called You Crazy" or an "Uptown Odyssey", but alas, it seems as if Galactic only plays one song from this album per show. The show ended with another blast of funk called "Africa (New Orleans)" and wrapped the show the same way I walked into it-- nothing but pure, bone-rattling, brainpan-melting Funk. This last song was so funky it was like one of those lead vests you have to wear for dental x-rays. I was just surrounded by warm & dense soul-funk... almost weighed down my the music filling the air of the Vic. I never wanted to go home, this show was amazing. I wanted to shred until sunrise...

On the way out of the venue I got to meet Stanton and had him autograph a poster for Amy & I. He was a rad dude and with any luck he will be back in Chicago this time next year to sign another poster for us. I told you not to miss this show...



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