It’s All Hallows Eve in Austin and that means quite the scene. Sure, it’s a Sunday this year and the peak Halloween action here tends to be on Saturday night when all the UT students are out in full force as they were last night. But when you’re talking about one of the top Halloween party scenes in the nation, you know most of those party people are going to be back for more with the chance to double down on costume fun this weekend.
STS9 raged Stubbs until midnight on each of the previous two nights, but now Galactic rolls in for the bonus show. The 10:30 pm Sunday night curfew at Stubbs is the only fly in the ointment, for this will prevent the New Orleans funk masters from delivering their full party power. It makes no sense for that curfew to apply on a holiday Sunday like this one though, when tens of thousands of people will be partying downtown late into the night. But Galactic always rise to the occasion, so you know they’ll make the most of the time they have. Rising local funk titans T-Bird and the Breaks have toured with Galactic before and warm things up nicely. T-Bird, aka Tim Crane, and crew have got a groovy old-school soul sound that always gets a crowd going. A cover of Cee Lo Green’s ubiquitous “Fuck You” makes for a festive trick or treat moment here, with female backing vocalists Stephanie Hunt and Sasha Ortiz shining on the “Ain’t that some shit” line in the chorus. Their stylish dance moves also help to keep things festive throughout the set. “Shackles and Chains” lights up the night with its horn-powered R&B dance groove toward the end of the set, and it’s clear that this band’s star is on the rise.
It’s already been a long weekend of hard partying for most of the crowd, but when Galactic hits the stage at 9 pm, the totally costumed audience is ready for one more blast of musical mayhem. The band comes on dressed in mariachi-style outfits, with each member’s face painted Day of the Dead style with day-glo/black light paint. The psychedelic effect enhances the festive vibe further as the band lights an immediate fuse with “Cineramascope” from their album of the year candidate, Ya-Ka-May. The tight, horn-driven instrumental gets the crowd going right away, with saxman Ben Ellman and trombonist Corey Henry blowing it up over one of drummer Stanton Moore’s funkiest beats. Guitarist Jeff Raines rips it up too, and it’s clear that he and bassist Robert Mercurio are having a blast.
“Balkan Wedding” conjures another infectious party groove and it’s clear that Stubbs is the place to be in Austin tonight. The groove just keeps getting deeper and deeper, with jazzy horn lines over crisp chords and melty riffs from Raines. Cyril Neville, who has been touring with Galactic for much of the year, is unfortunately absent due to commitments at the Voodoo Festival in New Orleans. But Galactic are so connected that they merely called in Cyril’s older brother Ivan to join them for the evening instead. Numerous highlights ensue, such as a deeply bluesy rendition of Allen Toussaint’s classic “Hercules”, with Neville leading the way on keys and lead vocal.
Henry leads the band in the Big Easy staple “Ohh Nay Nay”, catalyzing a rowdy crowd sing-along on the party classic. The special treats keep coming when T-Bird and some of the Breaks join the band for “There’s A Break in the Road”, another powerful Toussaint classic. Susan Tedeschi brought the tune back into mainstream consciousness when she covered it on her 2009 Back to the River album, but this version is a keeper as well. T-Bird delivers his own deeply soulful lead vocal and the band rocks out on the heavy groove, much to the crowd’s delight. Henry takes a big trombone solo to raise the song higher still.
It all becomes a bit of a whirlwind blur for those who are on their third consecutive night of Halloween festivities, and the show ends all too soon when the band heads off stage as 10:30 approaches. But a rip-rocking encore of “Africa” with Ivan Neville on vocals once again sends the crowd out into the night with nothing but smiles.
Afterward, the scene on Sixth Street is almost as festive as it was the previous night. There are a few less students and a few more families, but the costumed revelry is still in full effect. The Austin police don’t have barriers down the center of the street like they did the previous night, which makes walking up the street much more comfortable. The barriers had crammed everyone together, an overzealous attempt at crowd control. The crowd watching is amazing – superheroes, zombies, robots, Na’vi warriors and princesses, and one extremely sexy Smurfette. The Chupacabra Cantina is even open late, serving their delicious Yucatan pork tacos and frozen vodka sweet tea drinks. If there’s a better Halloween scene in America tonight (remember the temperature is also near 70 degrees), it’s hard to imagine where it might be.