By Andy J. Gordon
New Orleans bands often cross musical genres, and Galactic is no exception. In fact, they are at the forefront of being innovative while keeping their jazz and funk roots alive. They came to the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on March 31, 2011 with a couple of special guests, Cyril Neville, and Corey Henry. Galactic’s recent recordings have added elements of hip hop to their usual funk and soul infused rock sound, so their live performance was sure to be interesting.
A few years ago, the band parted ways with their regular vocalist and proceeded as an instrumental only ensemble. The results were definitely funky, but something was missing. In a successful experiment, the band invited guest vocalists to sing on several tracks that were released as part of 2007s From the Corner To the Block album. In 2010, they enlisted another group of guests, including Henry’s Rebirth Brass Band, for their album Ya-Ka-May. The addition of Neville and Henry for the touring band allows Galactic (www.galacticfunk.com) to perform anything from their back catalog and complements their unique wall of sound. Neville is a talented vocalist and percussionist who is a founding member of his families’ Neville Brothers (www.nevilles.com/.) Corey Henry is one of the dynamic trombone masters of Rebirth Brass Band (www.rebirthbrassband.com/,) and his ability to nail hip-hop inspired vocals adds a special something when he performs with Galactic. The main band members are Ben Ellman on saxophone and harmonica, Rob Mercurio on bass, Stanton Moore on drums, Jeff Raines on guitar, and Rich Vogel on keyboards.
John Brown’s Body (www.johnbrownsbody.com,) did a fine job of warming up the crowd with an energetic, progressive reggae set. The audience was really amped up when Galactic hit the stage and launched into a couple of killer instrumentals, “Who Took The Happiness” and “Funky Bird.” The dynamic interplay between Corey Henry’s trombone and Ben Ellman’s intense saxophone was immediately put to good use and continued throughout the show. Cyril Neville came out to thunderous applause and sang the funk classic “I Don’t Know What…Funky.” Galactic made sure the audience appreciated Neville’s talent with a number of showcase tunes. His rootsy vocals and stage presence highlighted several songs including “You Don’t Know,” and “Heart of Steel,” from 2010s Ya-Ka-May. He also did the lead vocals on “Gossip” from his 1970 solo album, the Meters classics, “No More Okey Doke” and “I Believe,” as well as the Mardi Gras Indian standard “Ooh Nah Nay.”
Corey Henry was featured on “Boe Money,” which was recorded with his Rebirth band mates on Ya-Ka-May. He also sang lead vocals and got the audience to participate with a call and response on “From the Corner to the Block.” The core musicians of Galactic drove the sound throughout the set with their technical wizardry, and seemed to really enjoy playing with the guest stars. Stanton Moore’s brilliant drum work provided the foundation; Rob Mercurio drove the low end with his thumping bass, and Jeff Raines’ guitar licks felt right whether the tune was funky, soulful or hard driving rock. Rich Vogel’s creative keyboards complemented the other musicians and filled the room with a vibrant variety of trippy sounds. After a long set that gave everyone else a chance to shine, the encore closed with “Santa Cruz” and the band gave a shout out to Stanton Moore who did a wild solo. It varied from rapid fire to mellow and culminated with Moore at the front of the stage with a single drum. The other band members surrounded him in a drum circle. Once back at his drum kit, he proceeded to blast a frenzied solo. Eventually the band rejoined and the song finished, leaving the audience and band exhausted. With their combination of great core musicians and talented guests, the Galactic live show was one to remember.
Photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon