The road goes on for Galactic, the retro-future funkateers of New Orleans who have long treated California like a second home. The band has a great West Coast run lined up that drops them just north of San Diego on Wednesday night. Will they deliver more epic performances when they move on to San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium over the weekend? Perhaps, since they are known for their affinity for playing late into the evening when time allows. But these guys are musicians’ musicians who have established credibility with the consistency of their live performances.
The band has worked with different singers over the years but the instrumental core has stayed the same – Stanton Moore on drums, Robert Mercurio on bass, Jeff Raines on guitar, Rich Vogel on keys and Ben Ellman on sax. The quintet has established a chemistry that many bands never reach, carving out a career as dedicated road warriors and party kings who always deliver the goods. Heavily influenced by the pioneering funk sound of the Meters, Galactic have taken those roots and mixed them up with a grab bag of diverse influences to become one of the grooviest outfits in America. This well-earned reputation is what packs the clubs wherever they go.
Trombonist Corey Henry from the Rebirth Brass Band has been touring with the band in recent years to add some extra soul power, as has Living Colour vocalist Corey Glover whose bluesy style and diverse range fits right into the mix.
On February 27, the band hits the stage around 10:30 at the Belly Up Tavern. Glover comes out on the second tune, a funky number with an old school vibe that recalls James Brown. Then he stars on “You Don’t Know”, one of the band’s strongest original tunes of recent years. Glover comes and goes throughout the show, showing a band that is equally comfortable with instrumental jams or vocal songs.
“Balkan Wedding” is one of the great instrumental numbers, a tune that has the whole club getting down on the good foot, sparked by Vogel’s great organ work. “It sounds like ‘Moma Dance’ on speed,” says one fan, referencing one of Phish’s funkier numbers. It’s an interesting correlation considering keyboardist Page McConnell recently played a handful of gigs with three-quarters of the original Meters, billed as “The Metermen”. But there’s no doubt that Galactic are the heirs to the Meters’ funk throne in New Orleans.
The band sets up Glover on the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus”, mixing the psychedelic flavor of the original with a harder rocking arrangement to create a unique spin. Then the instrumental skills are on display at the highest level as the group segues on a dime from the “Walrus” jam right into their own “Heart of Steel”, a bluesy tune about personal perseverance that has become a gem of the repertoire these past few years. Henry’s vocals add a festive flair to the Stones’ classic “It’s All Over Now”.
Opening act Lyrics Born joins Galactic for the next tune. His hip-hop flavor seems to grab the crowd much better now than it did during the opening set. It’s a funky, bluesy sexy kind of tune and the band revs it up for a strong jam where Raines shreds some melty leads on guitar.
Another hot bluesy jam recalls Led Zeppelin’s “Traveling Riverside Blues”, as Galactic continues to demonstrate equal skill for blues and classic rock as with funk, soul and hip-hop. But that’s a big part of what music in the Big Easy has always been about – throwing different influences together into an original stew that honors the past while continuing to push the envelope forward.
The band doesn’t take a break as they usually do. They rock one long set, which makes sense due to the fact that this is a weeknight at a venue with a curfew. But in this case it means there’s no time for letting up. Glover stars again on the R&B classic “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”. It’s a deep cut with a deep groove that’s tailor made for this crew. The song has an almost mesmerizing effect on the audience and Glover’s soulful vocal is downright moving. The song sets the stage for Glover to really belt it out on “Cult of Personality”, Living Colour’s smash hit from over two decades ago. The band crushes it with a funkier flavor than the original thanks to the horns and Moore’s deep pocket beat. Glover displays some extra showmanship when he moves from the stage out onto an adjacent beam to rev up the psyched crowd even more.
“We Love ‘Em Tonight” finds the band back into instrumental territory with another hot jam that keeps the party rocking. Mercurio steps up with a stellar bass solo that keeps the groove factor on high, followed shortly thereafter by a drum solo from Moore. The drum solo starts off a little tame, but the groove master soon revs it up to where the whole crowd is dancing along with his syncopated beats.
The set goes for nearly two hours before the encore, which starts with another deep R&B type of number that hits home once again. The show closes with Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times”, cranking up the energy to its highest voltage. Glover sings a strong, soulful last crescendo while Raines, Mercurio and Moore make a wicked power trio to blow every one away. It’s great way to close out the show and the audience leaves fulfilled.