By Andy J. Gordon
New Orleans has a diverse music scene, and a long history of bands playing jazz/funk fusion. Galactic (www.galacticfunk.com) carries on that tradition and recently, has added elements of hip hop into their mix. On their newly released album “Ya Ka May”, the group invited a varied list of New Orleans musical talent to help with the broadening of their sound. Artists as diverse as Big Freedia (www.myspace.com/bigfreedia), a “bounce” hip hop singer, and Cyril Neville, one of the legendary founders of the Neville Brothers (www.nevilles.com/) offered their assistance with new songs. For their current tour, Galactic brought along Freedia, Neville, and Corey Henry, who is one of the talented trombonists from Rebirth Brass Band (http://rebirthbrassband.wetpaint.com/.) Their show at the El Rey consisted of new and old material. They pleased the loyal fans in attendance, and gained some new ones with the experimental diversion from their regular sound.
Galactic’s long-time members are Ben Ellman on saxophone and harmonica, Rob Mercurio on bass, Stanton Moore on drums, Jeff Raines on guitar, and Rich Vogul on keyboards. Corey Henry played trombone and sang on a few tunes. Cyril Neville played percussion, and sang as well. Before Galactic started their set, Big Freedia opened with a DJ and two gyrating dancers that brought the crowd to a rowdy frenzy. Galactic opened their set with “Blackbird Special,” a classic Dirty Dozen Brass Band song. After some instrumental pyrotechnics, they brought out Cyril Neville, who sang three songs. The first was an old Meters classic, “No More Okey Doke.” Next were “You Don’t Know” and “Heart of Steel”, two songs from the new album. Another new song, “Boe Money” which was recorded with Rebirth gave Corey Henry an opportunity to trade solos with Ben Ellman. Up next was the song recorded with Big Freedia, “Double It.” Freedia came back onstage and his big personality really hooked the audience.
One of the beautiful things about Galactic is they are comfortable, and quite adept, at mixing genres. With Stanton Moore’s brilliant drum work providing the foundation, the band ably crosses from scorching rock to funky soul to second line traditional jazz. They even delve into Eastern European Klezmer-like rhythms with a song like “Technocheck Collision.” Both Henry and Neville added significantly to Galactic’s usual sonic assault. Each delivered fine vocals, and Henry’s trombone playing gave the band another talented soloist to play with.
The set closed with Neville singing lead on “Bacchus,” a new song that the band recorded with Allen Toussaint, “Gossip,” a classic from Neville’s 1970 solo album, and Henry rapping on “From The Corner To The Block,” the title track from the band’s previous album. After a short break, Galactic came back onstage to raucous cheers. The encore featured a wild drum solo by Stanton Moore during “Baker’s Dozen,” which culminated with Moore at the front of the stage with a single drum and the band members surrounding him in what seemed to be a powwow. Once he returned to his drum kit, the song continued at a frenzied pace leaving the crowd exhausted. Galactic may have stepped out of their comfort zone with their latest studio release, but their live show still brings a ton of funk, and keeps their core audience happy. There is nothing wrong with a little experimentation and genre bending to bring in some new blood, as long they keep their faithful fans tuned in. They did that beautifully at the El Rey show.
Photos courtesy of Brigitte Bard.