Midwest Musings: Galactic 4.13.10
This review was as inevitable as the very seasons themselves. The genesis of my current musical focus, my current life for that matter, was made into reality by the band Galactic. Simply put, at the admonition of a friend, I went to see Galactic for the first time on the 28th of January, 1999. They were playing in a bar called Ripley's in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, with another new to me act, Keller Williams, and had been heavily recommended to me by a fellow music maven, Milo. I’ll talk about Keller and his mindblowing act some other time, cause at the moment the stage rightly belongs to Galactic. Back then they had a singer who went by the name “Houseman”, Theryl DeClouet was part of the band, and their shows followed a (unknown to me at the time) pattern. The band would come out sans vocalist for about 45 minutes of mind blowing live funk instrumentals, and then would be joined by the Houseman for about 40 some odd minutes of R&B influenced funky groovalistic styling’s. After a quick break they would come back out for a repeat of the first sets pacing, with longer jams if possible. That night in Annie’s, I was left mind blown by their first set. Utterly destroyed. Then the aforementioned Keller joined the band for a game changing 25 minute instrumental sit in, where the band relaxed in a semi circle, their guest at the far stage left, and went round the horn twice each, jamming with and soloing on the top of each other in a loose, friendly open way that warmed me to my core. Though I was quite a different person back then, I was always susceptible to a beautiful blissful moment of musical nirvana, and I was instantly transported there during their show that night.
As the show went on I went to their merch table, well within earshot of the mad funk being laid down, and purchased their two albums to date, Coolin’ Off and Crazyhorse Mongoose. Those first cd’s have had to be replaced due to wear. And I take good care of my cd’s. Seriously, I have worn out cd’s! My purchases secure, I spied an unguarded show poster on the wall. I crept up and ever so gently peeled it from the wall. MINE! I folded it up, as careful as could be, and slid it into my back pocket. And, yes, I am aware that if I had simply asked, they would have let me take it. Don’t rain on my parade here. The stealth and cunning I displayed at that point, sliding slowly down the wall, waiting in place til I was sure no one had seen me move in front of my prize. The nonchalant look I kept plastered on my face, as I raged wildly inside my brain as my arm, bent behind my back, methodically freed it from it’s gooey taped bondage. In that moment I was ninja, and all the world was mine to steal. MINE! All this thievery is unlike me, and a testament to the love already growing inside me for Galactic. A seed was planted that night, that would grow beyond my wildest imagings. As the next few weeks passed, while I ironed and flattened out the creases, went to the art store and bought colored markers to create a blend that would perfectly match the color flaked away by the process of folding it and took a thin point sharpie and stylized the letters ever so slightly that had been speedily written on it by some nameless bar employee, the cds were played in heavy rotation.
Since that night, and the magic show they put on, my side mission in life has been to get people to go see Galactic whenever possible. And I put my money where my mouth is, truly I do. There are say twenty people who I have purchased tickets to Galactic shows for, as part of my “If you don’t like it, it’s on me” Program. And there are yet more of my friends who will attest to my giving them tickets to Galctic at all times of the year, for whenever a show was coming, as their early Christmas presents. This show, at Buster’s billiards and Back Room, was not one of those however; this show was actually thanks to another music fan, like Milo before him, who informed me of a chance to see Galactic do what it is that they do. Burk, and his lovely bride Shellie, are some of the finest folks you’ll ever meet and for realsies road dogs as well. When I mentioned to Burk that I was off from work a day earlier than expected due to poor date checking on my part, he asked if I was then making it to the Galactic show in Lexington that night. At first the news of a show so close to home slipping past me scared me, then I remembered the reason The show was blocked from my mental data base, I had thought there was no way to go due to my ensuing trip to Wanee. So, as I am known to do when I can’t do some fun thing, I erased it from my memory! Shazam, off I go. Burk and Shellie kindly offer me a spare bed, and I am packed and on the road a day early to see and shoot my favorite band. A quick call to Justin puts a press request in for me, and I make the drive in record time. That’s when the trouble starts, sadly.
You see, the turn off, unfortunately named “Dick Street” (No foolsies, the road was under construction, as in gone). My google maps directions did not know of such things mind you, and in great Rex Tradition, I got a little lost. As an aside, if you ever go to a show with me, please PLEASE volunteer to navigate, and don’t let me have that job if you value your driving time. So I drove around, yelling at passerby “Hey do you know how I can find Dick Street” and various permutations thereof, till I found a car full of college guys who seemed to want to help me find Dick Street a little more than I wanted to. So, I stopped at a gas station and got actual directions that didn’t make me want to take fourteen consecutive showers and finally found the venue, Busters Billiards and Backroom, on the outskirts of Lexington, KY. With the I-65 interstate connection New Orleans and Chicago, we lucky folks who live in one of the many cities along that highway get a lot of chances to see Galactic, and they are truly beloved in the region, as they are in fact across the country and around the world. Buster had a nice layout, a smoking ordinance in Lexington kept smokers to a well lit area surrounding the building, and a spacious concert area with a sizable stage dominated the rear of the building. I arrived shortly before the opener, local overdubbing funky jamsters Goldenrod took the stage.
Goldenrod’s set was a pleasant reminder of why I love what I do, seeing bands forming and gelling into something new right before your eyes. With judicious use of samples, fleshed out by a ripping drummer and the Rev. Kirk Sunrise on organ, the band percolated along like a funky machine, an engine of music. You could hear the musical piston rise and fall while they played, and sometimes they would settle in to a low purring rumble, broken by an eruption into a showering tower of jam. Really, I was very impressed. And, as a starter for the evening goes, it’s always nice to have acts that bled thematically with the headliners. As Goldenrod evoked some of Galactic’s more groove laden roots, while second support act T-Bird and the Breaks reminded me of Galactic’s brassy splashy finest rave ups, when they would have entire other bands join them on stage!
T-Bird and the Breaks, a nine piece band that takes the full sound of a big band and makes it swing and sway in their own, dirty funky way. Must be something to do with the heat of Austin TX, like Galactic’s New Orleans home that breeds that loosey goosey beat into the backbones of all those fine players! Totally loose, and in complete control the whole time, T-Bird and the Breaks displayed a comfort on the stage that made you believe in them. Any horns in a band make me smile, but bringing a three piece section of cats blowing from their shoes made my night. I paid extra attention to the horns, as the last two shows I had checked out from the web had had the horn players joining Galactic during their main set. It was readily apparent why these guys were given the prestigious opening slot they held. The rhythm combo of Sam Patlove on drums and Cody Furr on bass kept the tempos punchy and held down the bottom in a solemn and spiritual manner when called for. But Rave ups were the order of the evening for the Breaks, as T-Bird ambled the stage, dancing with the music in an easy, second nature-y way. Stephanie Hunt and Sasha Ortiz provided a feminine spark to the stage that was a relief both visually and audibly, as their sultry voices cut through the funk as easily as the lonesome peels and breathy expressions of the horns, as the band would then easily slip into full call and response mode. With call and responses going from groups of players, horns calling out to the drums, T-Bird calling out to the siren singers on his left and the band as a whole calling out to the crowd with the song itself, and hearing the cheers of approval in return. Can’t say enough about the future I see for these fine folks, so full of the late night, emptying ballroom vibe that they put out, a wailing trance funk that holds even the tightest of hearts in thrall.
As the stage cleared and the hall filled and filled I finally let myself face the fact that I was about to see Galactic for the, oh I don’t really know, over fiftieth time, sixty, maybe? Let’s just say I have stayed true to my love of the band, and if a chance has come up to see them, I have taken it. I have seen them in more than a dozen states, mental and physical, even going so far as to see them tear their spiritual home, Tipitina’s down brick by brick, then rebuild it all at once with the sheer power of the music produced by this five piece band, and whatever family and friends have come with them at that moment. Festivals, in store appearances, radio station interviews, regular tour stops galore, you name it,I have been there. Please know that I say this not to brag, just t tell you I love this band, to a serious degree. If they aren’t my favorite live band, someone else must be having a really on day, because usually, Galactic is it. As pure a distillate of a city’s musical vibe that I have ever seen Galactic is the music of their city, and by proxy New Orleans is Galactic to me. Open, organic, human players, reaching out to each other, and the listener, with the language of song, a shiny hot brass tease. Deceptive in his stage presence, you need but open your ears to hear Jeff Raines cutting thru the heart of the live mix, insistent on keeping the song alive. Rob Mercurrio plays as if he is one with the bass lines he lays down, and to see him erupt from a trance when the music slips it’s bonds and flies into uncharted territory is always a delight to me. Playing a mighty organ, giving the band that all important majestic aspect that other funk bands lack is Richard Vogel. It amazes me the quality of this band, and the partnership they have developed onstage, the sheer trust is heartwarming.
For the last year or so Corey “Bone Money” Henry of the Rebirth Brass Band has toured with the band, and gives Ben Ellman the regular sideman for his nightly jaunts into saxophonist badassery. Their duels, and call outs to each other have added yet another facet to the body of work. Always impressed with his work on the sax, Ellman seems at to truly enjoy having a side man on the horn, and the moments of good natured smiles as they take a moments break from their wailing to catch their seventy fifth wid. The horns have always seemed the most personal instrument to me, all that focused breathing. Such an intense physical element that few other instruments require. All this talk of the generally perceived of star players, fail as usual to mention the unsung heroes of a lot of bands, the drummer. Hidden in the back, obscured by his kit, often poorly lit and ignored, the drummer in many a band is a forgotten role player. Not such a problem for the fireball of energy, the happiest to be doing what he is person in the music industry, Stanton Moore.
So many shows and so many players, and none ever looked happier than Stanton Moore. From the first show I saw, the glow he had, the maniacally joyous facial contortions, a mad mix of percussion and inspiration, crazed and rapturous at the same time. Every show, every time, he jams so hard he rises to his feet, as if unable to stop himself, just a conduit to the beat, a part of the whole in his perfect place at the perfect time. Like twelve metronomes all rolled into one, he can hold himself and the funk back, like the skies dropping rain drops at a slow steady pace. As much as Vogel’s nigh sacred bombast on the organ s Galactic’s heavenly side, Moore is the trickster god. His playing and timing twist and turn, and he never fails to amaze. Like seriously, EVER! I promise! In every fantasy best band I have ever sat and picked Moore is my drummer period. I think he is versatile enough o cover any challenge presented him, and with Galactic, he provides a rare focus on the drums and the rarely seen face behind them!
A special added guest to the show was Cyrill Neville, Joining the band to do songs from their latest release Ya-Kay-May, a tight slice of Nawlins funkroll. Henry took the mic to do some memorable turn, including the title track to their previous cd, From the Corner to the Block. Funk that will run you down like a steamroller flowed freely from the stage, and the audience rolled in response. Burk and Shellie danced happily on the far side of the club, and I walked through my own personal heaven, laughing at my good fortune as I took pictures of my favorite band, jamming away! After the show closer, I made my way back to the photo pit and peeked backstage and, sure enough, there were the horn player from the Breaks, and here they come. A fat horn fest was served, a harvest of the bounty of the seeds planted earlier in the evening coming to fruition. And then, the moment a photographer waits for, a shot of prime elegance and power! Stanton Moore rose from his stool and carried his snare with him around the kit and to the front of the stage. Mercurio held a snare drum with extended arms While Jeff Raines offered up his guitar for a percussive surface to work with. With Henry on his right gripping a cowbell in place, Stanton Moore went into a grinning flurry of motion and flow. At these moments, I try and remain respectful of the folks in the front row, and try not to obscure their view, but the stage was high and the moment was perfect. I was supposed to be there, and I was. Those moments of absolute certainty are what make my life worth living, and I slept the good sleep that night, safe at Shellie and Burk’s, snug in their lovely home, and surrounded by the most wonderful pack of doggsies! The best feeling in the world after such a successful show, it really is. So much to love in this world!
Words and pictures by Rex Thomson